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Friday, December 26, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 3/25/2006

A real World Series

IT MAY not have captured America's imagination, at least not yet, but baseball finally has itself a true World Series - the World Baseball Classic.

Japan defeated Cuba, 10-6, in the final match of the 39-game World Baseball Classic Monday in San Diego. More significant than the outcome was the inauguration of the international competition itself.

This affair was truly a world series of baseball, with teams from 16 countries around the globe participating, including one from South Africa. Games were held in several countries.

Much of it was remarkable, not the least of which was the fact that the United States team didn't win the event; it was eliminated by Mexico, 2-1. The nationalistic fervor and passion of the fans was a pleasure to see, and many of the players got caught up in the excitement as well.

The Classic also raised, and answered, some serious questions. One was whether Cuba could come to the United States without half the team defecting.

For Cuba even to play, President Bush had to intervene personally, sweeping aside old barriers put in place to punish Cuban president Fidel Castro's regime and kept there to pander to Florida's Cuban refugee community, which generally supports Republicans. In the end, the Cuban team played here and didn't jump ship.

Another problem is the Classic's timing, preceding the American major league season and coming in the middle of baseball's spring training.

That presented a conflict for foreign players on Major League Baseball's team rosters. There will be time for the sport to analyze the inaugural event, however, since the next WBC tournament won't occur for three years. After 2009 it will be played every four years, like the Olympics.

Major league teams also worried that their players would get hurt in the World Baseball Classic competition. But only one, pitcher Luis Ayala of the Washington Nationals, suffered a potentially season-ending injury, something that could just as easily have occurred in spring training.

Fears of a financial disaster also were groundless. Some 740,000 tickets were sold at the various venues, only a few thousand less than projected.

The Classic project was 20 years in the making, too long given the increasingly international nature of baseball competition and the fact that major league rosters have been stacked with foreign-born players for decades. No doubt the Classic was a bonanza for MLB scouts.

The failure of the U.S. team to even advance to the finals may have surprised many Americans, including, no doubt, the players themselves. But maybe the notion of American invincibility in their own national pastime needed to be amended anyway.

The American players were simply not game-ready after their long winter off, while many of the other teams, including certainly Cuba, were in shape and motivated to do well.

Finally, what do we now call MLB's World Series in October? After the Classic, has our own "Fall Classic" become the North American Series?



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