ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote Saturday about the “absurd notion that players should sacrifice for the WBC” — a notion that I endorsed in my Friday column, citing the importance of growing the game internationally.
Frankly, though, I’m not even sure I would call the players’ participation a sacrifice.
The WBC benefits not just the owners, but also the players, too.
The players’ association is a partner in the WBC — a 50-50 partner with Major League Baseball. Players are paid from a pool of prize money to participate. They also receive an equal share of the profits from the tournament.
So, this is not a matter of the players helping out the owners, taking one for the team. The players are an equal part of the team, and it’s in their self-interest for attendance to grow and TV rights to become more valuable.
Even now, with the WBC still in its relative infancy, the players are making money off the tournament — yes, even the ones who do not participate.
Both the 2006 and ’09 tournaments turned a profit, according to baseball officials. Half of that money went to the players, and the union’s executive board decided how to distribute it, a union official said.
The board traditionally awards some of that money to the participants and some to the licensing program, which goes to all players, the official said.
The greater slice for the participants, right now, is the money that they receive from their national federations.
The WBC requires those federations to commit 50 percent of their prize pool funds toward game development. Most or all of the other 50 percent goes to players, with each federation determining the exact breakdown.
In 2009, players for Japan each received about $90,000 for winning the tournament, according to an MLB official. USA players each received about $22,000 for reaching the semifinals, and a number of U.S. players donated their earnings back to USA Baseball, the official said.
Those sums might not entice major leaguers, who play for a minimum salary of $490,000. But the overall pool is even larger for the 2013 tournament — a total of $15 million, the source said. Members of the winning team each will receive about $121,000, a significant increase from ’09.
Again, the bigger this thing gets, the more money there will be — for everyone involved.
At some point, if the TV rights could generate sufficient revenues, the owners might even embrace the idea of shutting down the sport at midsummer to play the tournament — or more realistically, for a few extra days at the All-Star break to play the semifinals and finals.
Live sporting events draw increasingly large rights fees. The WBC might never rival soccer’s World Cup as a worldwide event, but what if it becomes one-fourth of that? The potential is enormous.
Players, managers and general manages fret over the risk of injury, and their concerns are understandable. But players take that risk every time they walk onto the field, even for spring training games — see Curtis Granderson.
While the pressure of playing in international competition is far greater than playing in spring training, there is no data to suggest that playing in the tournament increases the chances of players getting hurt.
In some specific cases — a player coming off an injury, a player entering a contract year — the prudent choice might be to avoid the WBC. But those cases should be the exceptions, not the norms.
Buster wrote, “There is incredible irony in the narrative that players and teams should put aside their self-interest and participate in the WBC for the sake of growing the game.”
Buster is right, and my initial phrasing was wrong. The players and teams shouldn’t put aside their self-interest. They should act in their self-interest, and commit fully to the WBC.