Responses to readers

Thanks for all the comments and questions.  A few quick responses:

Stephen — I will talk about November in the blog tonight, but there are logistical and broadcast issues that make it difficult. I think we can look at dates going forward, and will, but November will be hard. On the Olympics, we worked very hard to keep baseball in. Three weeks before Singapore, Paul Archey and I traveled to Lausanne with Aldo Notari, President of the IBAF, and with John Moores and Sandy Alderson of the Padres to meet with Dr. Rogge on this subject. After our presentation designed to meet their concerns, he told us we had no concerns about any vote to eliminate baseball. Three weeks later … out of the blue, the vote was taken. Since that time we have had numerous meetings with Peter Ueberroth, and left the World Series for a meeting in Geneva. We lobbied worldwide for the votes to reinstate, but I think the problem was the reconsideration came too close to the original vote. We’ll keep working to get baseball and softball reinstated. The idea that baseball is not more important globally than some of the sports currently in the Games is preposterous.

Dave — Thanks. I think we have a virtual sellout on Sunday and the crowd will be enthusiastic, I am sure. These two teams have a real rivalry, with Korea still being thought of as the "new kid on the block."

Dominicana — We tried to balance the pools and have geographic rivalries that made sense in Round 1 for fan interest and for travel considerations. There are newer teams in each pool — China over here, Italy in Orlando, South Africa in Phoenix, and the Netherlands in Puerto Rico. And my guess is if they all advance, the USA will not think playing Korea and Japan in Round 2 is an easy road to the finals.

Yeoj — Remember, this was a new event for the broadcasters, too. We are really pleased that all games are being televised on ESPN Deportes. Many of the later-round games will be on ESPN or ESPN2 or ESPN Classic. The schedule is posted on mlb.com and ESPN.com.

GopherHockey — You are entirely correct. Much of the money here is going to the federations for grass roots development and some of it will go to the IBAF for the non-participating countries. Until we get back in the Olympics, we will have to make sure that interested countries continue to get the resources to grow the game. Our funding of Jim Lefevbre a couple of years ago to work with China is a prime example.

World Baseball Classic – Day 2

Konbanwa.  Well, two games down and thirty-seven to go.  If the quality and intensity of the first game today continues over the rest of the World Baseball Classic, Jack Curry will have to answer his own question posed in today’s New York Times — that this is a real competition and not just a "series of hyped exhibitions."  It is a shame that the Korean third baseman and slugger D.J. Kim dislocated his shoulder in the first game, but he did it diving into first base — not a maneuver often seen even during the regular season, let alone during an exhibition or Spring Training game.  The play of the middle infield for both teams in the game between Korea and Taipei was terrific and I counted at least five diving stops during the game, not bad for the first game of the first-ever tournament. While as we expected on a Friday morning the crowd was small, the cheering sections from the two countries were organized and loud throughout the game.

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Clearly the stars of Game 1 were the Major League pitchers Jae Seo (Los Angeles Dodgers), Byung Hyun Kim (Colorado) and the veteran Chan Ho Park (San Diego) for Korea who effectively shut down Taipei for the entire game. Dodger prospect Ching-Lung Hu kept Taipei’s hopes alive in the ninth inning but a great diving stop (again) by the Korean shortstop ended the game with the tying runs on base.

A real sense of what this event is all about, and one I wish we had videotaped for posterity, occurred in the umpires’ room before the game.  The manager of each team, the umpires and the Baseball Classic Technical Committee members on hand gathered to go over the rules of the tournament and the ground rules for the game.  Sandy Alderson, the Chair of the Technical Committee, led the meeting.  There was a Chinese interpreter for the Taipei manager, a Korean interpreter for the Korean manager, a Japanese interpreter for the Japanese umpires and Marty Springstead, the umpire supervisor, translated Sandy for the U.S. umpires (just kidding!).  A 15-minute meeting stretched for over a half hour and at times sounded like a bad shortwave radio when everyone got going at once.  It certainly gave all of us the sense that this was truly a global event and that the common language was baseball.  The rule on trips to the mound, which differs from country to country, took the most time, but once the game started, everything seemed to work out and there were no rule controversies.

Game 2 was a different story.  China was clearly outmatched — not surprising given that Japan has had a hundred-year head start on China in its love of baseball.  China managed to hold the game to 2-2 after four innings thanks to the heroics of catcher Wei Wang, who gunned out a runner at second in the third and hit a two-run homer in the fourth, but you could sense that the floodgates would open at some point, and the Japanese team did not disappoint.

For me,  the most interesting part of the second game came before it started.  While Japan took infield practice before the game, the Chinese team sat in their dugout in rapt attention.  When Ichiro made a throw from medium right field on a line to home to end the fielding drill, the crowd gave him an ovation.  Manager Jim Lefevbre turned to his players and commented "That’s what we call a Major League arm."

Tommy Lasorda is here as the Official Ambassador at Large for the entire event.  Tommy is revered wherever he goes.  You can’t get into an elevator with Tommy because everyone getting on or off wants to talk to him or get an autograph and he obliges everyone.  Mr. Hu Jianguo, the President of the Chinese Baseball Federation, said that when Tommy visited China he was mobbed everywhere he went.  Apparently even the Yellow River runs Dodger Blue.     Tommy threw out the first pitch tonight and while it was a little short of 60′ 6", he got a nice ovation from the crowd anyway.

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It was also great to see Peter O’Malley, the former Dodger owner who still has lots of friends on this side of the world.  Peter acted on his global vision for the game years ago to the Dodgers’ great advantage.  He signed the first player out of the Japanese professional leagues, Hideo Nomo, the first Korean, Chan Ho Park, and of course, created a legend north and south of the border with the great Fernando Valenzuela from Mexico.  There were times when the Dodgers could have held their own World Baseball Classic.

I’ll try to respond to some of the critical comments that have been posted as we go along and will try not to sound defensive.  First, this event is not about the money.  After expenses and prize money (which goes to the baseball federations of the winning countries primarily for grass roots development), there will be little left over.  It is about expanding the game.  There are now 122 countries with baseball federations, triple what there were 20 years ago.  China is largely an untapped market (despite how well Taiwan always did in the Little League World Series).  We have solid exposure and acceptance in Latin America, and are solid in Asia but not so good in Europe.  Italy and the Netherlands being in this event are a start.  We hope to play some regular season games in the next couple of years in Europe.  The World Baseball Classic games are being televised in over 200 countries in multiple languages and are available worldwide on mlb.com. All the games are being broadcast in English and Spanish on XM radio.  We could get no better exposure or excitement to jump-start the 2006 season. 

Tommorow:  Why not November? 

World Baseball Classic — Day 1 — Tokyo

Having made seven or eight trips to Japan over the past three years, I know that the absolute worst part of the trip is the hour-plus ride in from Narita to downtown. After a 15-hour flight, a half-hour of circling the airport, a half-hour with customs, and a 14-hour time difference, the car trip in from the airport seems like it takes a week.

But the mood tonight is entirely different.  After years of planning, debate, getting delayed a year because of a dispute between the owners and players in Japan last year (sound familiar?), the issues with whether Cuba would be in or out, the broadcast negotiations, and the thousands of details, the very first World Baseball Classic kicks off tomorrow morning at 11:30 Tokyo time. And while I am sure we have made mistakes, and will continue to have growing pains, there is a real sense of excitement about doing something new.

Two weeks ago there was a reception at the Japanese Embassy in D.C. to honor Hank Aaron and Sadaharu Oh. All anyone talked about that night, from the two ambassadors to George Will to the politicians that were there, was the World Baseball Classic. Tonight, at a pre-tournament party, Mr. Hitoshi Uchiyama, the President of the Yamiuri Shimbun, (host of the games in Tokyo and sponsor of the Tokyo Giants) said that from the formation of the Giants in 1934, the entire country has waited for this day where the best players from all around the world would compete in a tournament.

While I don’t go back that far, there is no question that the quality of play in Japan and all of Asia has improved dramatically over the last 20 years. On our last All-Star tour two years ago, MLB sent probably the best team it has ever sent to Japan and the Japanese All-Stars still won the first four games and only a sweep of the last five saved the day for the MLB team. The inclusion of teams like China, Japan, Korea and Cuba, which have mostly non-MLB players, adds an element of intrigue to the entire event. Can Cuba repeat the type of Olympic dominance it has demonstrated in the past now that it will be up against Major League players?  Has Japanese baseball improved to the level of being able to beat the Major Leagues’ best?

A lot of people here are saying that the most important game in this first round robin is the very first game tomorrow morning between Korea and Chinese Taipei. Those handicappers must be assuming that Japan will sweep its three games and that China will lose its three, so tomorrow’s game will decide the second team to move on to the next round. I don’t think it will be that easy, although China lost an exhibition game badly yesterday here and Taipei, on the other hand, had a very close game.  I think Korea can give Japan a run for its money Sunday night, and Jim Lefebvre has done a great job with the Chinese team.

It is too bad the Korea/Taipei game has to be tomorrow morning. It is the first game of the entire event and it starts Friday morning at 11:30 so no kids can come. It will have the smallest crowd of the entire tournament at any venue but it was all we could do with the schedule and trying to fit everything into two weeks.

Overall interest has been great. We have issued 3,500 media credentials, which is double the number issued for the World Series. We are on pace to draw over 800,000 fans, which for a first-time event exceeds our expectations, and is comparable to the number of tickets sold for the entire Winter Olympics. And while some players have decided not to participate who would clearly have made a difference, there are an awful lot of good players on board.

Not to be defensive, but I read some criticism about the possiblity of ties in the first two rounds, and how that lessens the event. Under the rules, and again given the time constraints, in the first two rounds, a game would be declared a tie after 14 innings and each team would get a half-win in the pool. The semifinals and finals in San Diego will be played to completion. Two points: First, given the round-robin format, it is likely that a tie for one of the teams would be the equivalent of a loss in determining who would move on. Second, in 2,400 games last season, there were three that went more than 14 innings.  That is one every 800. Those aren’t bad odds.

Keep your fingers crossed that the games are good, and that no one gets hurt.  While players get hurt during Spring Training, and in the offseason, injuries can put a damper on things. Otherwise, we’re under way.

Talk to you tomorrow.  Oyasuminasai!