The World Baseball Classic is Exactly What the Sport Needs

This year’s WBC opened many eyes, allowing fans to watch some of their favorite players join international teams and take on the world.

By Victor Roberts

In the past month, all eyes in the baseball world were on the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC), an quadrennial international tournament that broke records, hearts, and bats. Many are saying that the World Baseball Classic has changed the game for good, and they aren’t lying.

This year’s classic saw Shohei Ohtani and Japan winning their third title, cementing the country as a global baseball powerhouse, and exposing an international audience to all baseball had to offer. This year’s WBC drew in some of the largest audiences in the tournament’s history. The WBC Finals were watched by  5.2 million viewers in America, and 42.4% of Japanese households. Despite the WBC’s worldwide popularity, many are criticizing the tournament, hailing it as “irrelevant”. For some reason, the WBC does not garner the respect of American viewers as it does with so many abroad. 

The WBC was created by the MLB in 2006, and has since seen a steady increase in popularity abroad, but has experienced staunch opposition from American baseball fans. Teams and fans alike despise the idea that their players are risking injury and fatigue outside of the MLB season. However, these opposing voices often fail to account for how great of an honor it is to represent your country at a tournament like this. Many athletes jump at the opportunity to play for their country, some even going as far as saying winning the World Baseball Classic is more important than the World Series. 

There is good reason for American fans to be supportive of the tournament, considering the impressive run that the U.S. went on, finishing second overall in a narrow 3–2 loss to Japan. The U.S. scratched and clawed their way to the finals, beating Columbia, Venezuela, and Cuba in the process. The U.S. team scored 51 runs throughout the tournament, boasting an explosive and entertaining offense. However, a big headline for the U.S. team was their lack of starting pitching; the U.S. roster fielded none of the top American pitchers in the league. Last season in the MLB, 13 American pitchers finished in the top 20 in earned run average (ERA), yet none of them committed to play in the WBC. 

Evidently, the U.S has a problem motivating players to compete in the Classic, much of which relates to a fear of injury. Critics of the WBC were quick to cite Mets closer Edwin Díaz’s recent injury during the WBC as fuel to cancel the tournament. However, these same risks exist in Spring Training games, during which players are going through the same motions. Notably, first baseman Rhys Hoskins of the Philadelphia Phillies is out for the 2023 season after sustaining an ACL injury in a Spring Training game, showing that the risk is present no matter under what context you are playing the game. One consideration lies with insurance. Many players are unable to secure insurance that is willing to pay out their contracts should they face injury in a non-MLB setting, such as the WBC. Fear of missing out on their contracts should something happen has prevented many players from participating, but injuries are a part of the game. Although tragic, they should not be used as reasoning to cancel international baseball. 

Although the U.S. did not have all its star power on the field, the ones that did said the tournament was a great experience. Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout tweeted, “It’s hard to sum up into words what these last couple of weeks have meant to me. I had the time of my life representing that USA on my chest! The energy was electric and made the WBC a moment I’ll always cherish.” The sentiment around the WBC being a useless tournament could slowly be changing. Players urged their fellow countrymen to participate in the next go-around, promising that they would not be disappointed. Someone like Mike Trout, who is held in high regard around the league, could help others feel encouraged to participate in a tournament they watched from the sidelines.

Cubs and White Sox diehards may wonder why they should care about the WBC. As a baseball fan, I believe more games to watch are always fun, especially during the offseason when not much is happening. It is also exciting to root for your country and let the U.S. pride that comes out during the World Cup escape once again. Also, there are quite a few Chicago ball players, including Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who won the tournament with Japan, with the possibility of even more participating in the 2026 WBC. 

So why does the World Baseball Classic matter? For American fans, it offers an opportunity to watch some of their favorite players team up and take on the world. It also offers a spotlight to international players that the U.S. media may be unaware of, such as 21-year-old Japanese phenom Rōki Sasaki, nicknamed the “Monster of the Reiwa Era” and hailed as a once in a lifetime pitching talent. The World Baseball Classic is also introducing the sport of baseball to a wider international audience, giving it the potential to catapult into international dominance. So the next time someone tells you that the World Baseball Classic is just a bunch of exhibition matches, nod your head, roll your eyes, and keep watching those insane Trea Turner WBC highlights.