Despite Critics And Detractors, World Baseball Classic Endures And Continues To Grow Sport

One of the original minds behind the World Baseball Classic says he and the organizers of the global tournament never intended the event to be a once-in-a-lifetime showcase of elite baseball talent.

“It wasn’t an isolated incident,” said Bob DuPuy, former Major League Baseball president and chief operating officer. “(The 2006 WBC) was the opening version that would evolve as we learned about it and learned what worked.”

Now, nearly two decades after the 2006 version — which ended with Japan’s championship game win over Cuba — the 2023 World Baseball Classic is generating much excitement and patriotic fervor, not to mention renewed criticism.

From TeamTISI USA’s dramatic victory over Venezuela that took the Americans to the 23 semi-finals against Cuba, to the public outcry over the injuries of stars like Edwin Diaz and Jose Altuve, there is no shortage of debate about the tournament’s pros and cons.

But all you have to look at is a quote like Team USA’s Trea Turner to see that players treat the WBC with the same pride and passion they treat the MLB postseason.

“It was a great homer. It was fun,” Turner, the Phillies shortstop, told Fox after his eighth-inning grand slam gave the Americans a definitive lead in their quarterfinal game against Venezuela. “That’s why we play. That’s why we’re here. Back and forth all day. It was amazing.”

Altuve broke his right thumb in the same game against Team USA after being hit by a Daniel Bard fastball, and the Astros second baseman is out indefinitely. While Altuve was injured during the game, Diaz suffered an unusual injury while celebrating Puerto Rico’s victory over the Dominican Republic. Diaz, the Mets’ $102 million closer, suffered a torn patellar tendon and is expected to miss the entire 2023 MLB season.

Despite social media criticism following Diaz and Altuve’s injuries, WBC games continue to draw crowds and some of the sport’s biggest stars — Angels teammates Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, representing Team USA and Team Japan, respectively.

DuPuy says that in discussing the original WBC plans, one of the biggest hurdles was getting Players Association approval on multiple fronts, since the tournament would be held in the middle of spring training.

“The only concern was when it would take place (staged) and the impact it would have on major league rosters and spring training,” DuPuy says. “Owners, players and the union were right to be concerned about the risk of injury. But I think everyone agreed that this was positive for the sport’s international exposure and growth. The players and the union welcomed the concept. (former MLBPA executive) Gene Orza played a very active role throughout.”

Once the players were on board, DuPuy says the WBC organizers were lucky to have stars like Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Chipper Jones and Ichiro Suzuki sign up to play for their countries.

“We’ve had a lot of success doing all-star tours in Japan,” says DuPuy. “We tried to gain a foothold in China. We looked at Asia as a mature baseball market and of course Latin America. We also thought that the possibility of having a Cuban team participate would be a real asset.”

DuPuy recalls traveling to Tokyo for the play Pool A – which starred China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea – and blogging for, which was still in its infancy. “The Tokyo Dome was full,” says DuPuy. “The Korea/Japan game was a monster.”

Japan won both the 2006 and 2009 WBC tournaments, while the Dominican Republic was crowned WBC champion in 2013 and Team USA won it all in 2017.

“There’s no question that players deserve tremendous credit for being willing to step out of their routine and do something different, change training,” DuPuy says. “I think the players have embraced it and I think they’re excited, treating the WBC seriously within the rules and structure.

“Our fans have the luxury of seeing the best players in the world playing 162 games a year across the 30 teams,” added DuPuy. “First of all, Japanese fans, Korean fans, European fans and Latin American fans could see these players compete against the best players in the world in this format and it was very exciting. I think the WBC has done that and interest continues to grow.”

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