The World Baseball Classic championship game saw the United States lift the trophy in a big win over Puerto Rico, and after three weeks of what has turned into a surprisingly riveting and fun tournament, we've learned a lot about what has worked ... and what hasn't. Major League Baseball can take away a lot of lessons from the WBC. Here are seven.
Kelvin KuoKelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
When the players have fun, the fans have fun (and vice versa)
Outside of maybe the Ryder Cup, I can't remember an event in which the players and fans of a normally semi-reserved sport have seemed to feed off each other so much and brought the energy to an entirely new level.
The WBC has been fun. Fans are dancing and singing in the seats. Players are leaping for joy after big hits. Yes, of course playing for one's country can up the energy, but it's not like baseball is normally a solitary game. It's a team sport always, and if MLB can do anything to capture the spirit of these games, they need to try to do it. Whether that's on the fan side (encouraging supporters' groups to sit together in reserved parts of the park, more music) or the players side (allow them to have personalities and celebrate), the league needs to be doing more to capture this energy and spirit.
One understandable reason that players in MLB can't get as excited as they do in the WBC is the simple fact that an MLB season is long. When you're playing 162 games, you have to settle in and keep emotions in check so as not to burn out over the course of a long season.
But why not break up some of that season and introduce some games that matter in a different way? In soccer, teams will have midseason tournaments that spice things up, break up the monotony and give fans and teams something to get fired up about during the slog of a long season. It's beyond a long shot -- MLB would probably have to shorten its season to accomodate the extra games, and a lot of baseball fans would rather the sport cease to exist than shorten the season and compromise the records/stats of the game.
But man -- a midseason, single-elimination tournament with MLB teams would be a lot of fun.
Logan BowlesLogan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
…That extra inning rule probably isn’t going to work
The WBC experimented with a new extra-inning rule that puts men on first and second in extra innings. It's dumb. First, it's dumb because it encourages a ton of bunting, which is boring and lame. Second, it's dumb because it's not baseball. For all those stats-obsessed people mentioned above -- will players get runs and RBIs counted in games like this? Can you really get credited for scoring a run or batting a runner in when the runner was just plopped on second base?
Listen: Game-length is a serious issue for MLB, but games going deep into extra innings is rarely something I've ever heard complained about. Extra innings games are tense and exciting -- it's the one time you feel OK about a game going 4+ hours. The real pace-of-play problem is having to watch a manager go to five different pitchers in an inning or watch a batter adjust his batting gloves for 45 seconds between every pitch.
My only complaint so far about the WBC is that, living on the East Coast, I fall asleep before the end of the game almost every night. These wild matchups with late-inning heroics and cheering fans -- the exact sort of game that would get a school-age person extremely excited about the sport of baseball -- are being missed because every school-age person on the East Coast has been in bed for two hours by the time the ninth inning comes around.
I understand they want fans there, and with the games on the West Coast it makes sense from a revenue standpoint to start the games at 6 p.m. ... but man, why not make it just a bit earlier? The championship game will start tonight at 9 p.m. I couldn't be more fired up for it. I just hope I make it to the end without passing out on the couch.
Gary A. VasquezGary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The league needs to do a better job speaking to Latino fans
The absolute best part of this tournament has been watching the fans of the Caribbean, Central and South American countries bring their culture and idea of fanhood to the United States in a huge way. The Dominican Republic fans turned the tournament into a monthlong party, celebrating wins and losses equally with music and dancing.
I know MLB has done a lot of good work in the last decade trying to make the game more accessible to Latino fans, but they clearly need to do even more. This is a rabid and fun fanbase that clearly loves the game. They should be a huge priority for the league moving forward.
Tell players to knock it off with the unwritten rules
Over the last three weeks, for whatever reason, the players in this tournament have made a quiet agreement to put aside the unwritten rules and have some fun playing baseball. Bat flips are not cause for immediate bench-clearing brouhahas. Celebrations are allowed. Pitchers, for the most part, haven't taken a batter celebrating a big hit as if the batter was personally insulting him, understanding that these batters are playing for their country and just excited.
This is how baseball should be. Players need to get over themselves, and do it in a hurry, and baseball can help make this happen. Punish guys for self-regulation. If a pitcher gets offended because a guy celebrated a huge hit, and then throws at someone, come down hard on the pitcher, and make it clear that the dude needs to grow up. Baseball is still doing this self-policing thing, quietly tolerated by MLB, to make sure no one ever expresses himself too freely on the diamond. The days of the "lunch pail player" are over. We want to see guys having fun out there.
USA TODAY SportsRobert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Encourage players to remember this is a game
Speaking of which -- it's on MLB to remind these players that this is a game, and that it's OK to have fun out there. Emotion is not an enemy. I understand that over the course of 162 games, an even-keeled approach is needed. But to keep encouraging this idea that the sport is a job, it's work, and that it needs to be treated seriously? Come on.
No one is questioning how hard these players work. They put in so many hours behind the scenes it would make your head spin. When they suit up and play, however, that's when the play starts. The league should remind players of that -- it's a game. It's meant to be fun. Now go out there and celebrate it.