A true Global World Series? Maybe someday
I don’t know who will broadcast it, who will watch it, or who
will pay for it.
I don’t know what the owners, insurers, team executives and players will say.
I don’t know when or how it will come about.
I don’t know what people will call it.
But I believe there will be a Global World Series, in some form, within the next 25 years.
I’m not talking about the World Baseball Classic or the World Cup. I’m certainly not talking about the Olympics. The folks in Lausanne don’t have much interest in our pastime these days.
This is different. The best Major League Baseball team against the best Nippon Professional Baseball team. The World Series winner against the Japan Series winner.
Why do it? Well, for the same reasons that the old timers started playing baseball in the first place: We want to find out which team is better, and there is money to be made in the process.
Let’s first make clear that the U.S. and Japanese leagues are not currently hard at work on such an agreement. NPB commissioner Ryozo Kato recently told the Japanese newspaper Nikkan Sports that Bud Selig had indicated his interest in such a competition, but one baseball official cautioned that planning is not under way.
Keep in mind: Selig has recently stated his desire to make the postseason schedule more compact, and there are only two seasons left on the current collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the players’ union. Now is probably not the best time to add another tier to the playoffs.
However, the game is becoming more globalized by the year. A worldwide draft could be instituted for the next CBA. And for all the excuses about scheduling and conditioning, there is this: The World Baseball Classic has been contested twice, with the championship round on American soil; both times, Team Japan won; both times, Team USA didn’t even participate in the final game.
The Global World Series would be a different sort of competition. The U.S. representative wouldn’t consist entirely of American players. In fact, the Japanese club might have a couple American players of its own.
In most years, at least, the talent gap between the MLB team and the NPB team would be considerable. The reason is simple: The best players in the world are drawn to the U.S. major leagues by the money, notoriety and competitive tradition here.
Take last year, for example: The Yankees had a roster of international stars, including a Japanese designated hitter (and World Series MVP), Panamanian closer, Puerto Rican catcher, Dominican second baseman and Dominican-American superstar slugger at third base.
The Yomiuri Giants won the Japan Series. One of the most notable players in their history, Hideki Matsui, would have played against them in a hypothetical Global World Series.
The notion of Matsui facing the Giants in an über-championship series “would have been a huge media event in Japan,” according to Patrick Newman of NPBtracker.com, an English-language website that covers Japanese baseball.
Would the Giants have had a chance to beat the Yankees? I polled a number of people on that question, and a clear majority answered no. The ’09 Yankees were just too good.
“This isn’t Ichiro and company -- with their best playing the best players here,” said an international scout of one major league club. “This is a team scenario. And the average player over there doesn’t make it to the major leagues.”
But some believe that, in certain instances, the NPB team would have a realistic chance of beating the MLB club. Newman mentioned that the pitching staff of the 2003 Fukuoka Daiei Hawks would have made them “an interesting matchup” for the World Series champion Marlins that year.
And Bobby Valentine famously boasted that his 2005 Chiba Lotte Marines could have competed with the Chicago White Sox.
“Based on what I have seen, the MLB teams have more depth in talent,” said Tom Moore, director of international operations for the Detroit Tigers. “However, as seen in the World Baseball Classic, there are differences in the way the game is played among the two countries. Those differences would give a window of opportunity for the Japanese teams to potentially make up for the lack of talent depth.”
Think about the truisms we hear in October: It’s hard to predict what happens in a short series, and it all comes down to pitching. Last year, the Yankees demonstrated anew the meaning of dominant pitching in postseason play.
So what if Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish were to beat the U.S. team twice in a five-game series? One bad outing by the U.S. starter in another game, and you could witness a stunning upset.
Robert Whiting, an author and expert on Japanese baseball, pointed out that Japanese pitchers aren’t able to come to the U.S. major leagues until later in their careers -- at which point they may be worn out or past their primes. So, American fans don’t often see the best pitching Japan has to offer.
Still, Whiting believes MLB teams are more talented, top to bottom, than their counterparts in Japan.
“Japanese teams always have good pitching, and they are probably better at fundamentals like bunting and the hit and run, but there is a size and strength gap,” Whiting said. “There is just not enough depth. Less than half -- one-third -- of the players in NPB could play in MLB, and most of those would be sitting on the bench.”
Perhaps baseball could borrow from the NHL, which in 2008 and 2009 sent teams to Europe for preseason exhibitions against the winner of the Champions Hockey League. MLB teams have traveled to Japan several times already; an annual spring event against the reigning NPB champion would add significance.
I also like the suggestion put forth by Masa Niwa, a longtime baseball writer based in Seattle: The MLB could expand the postseason and give a spot to the NPB champion. That way, the Japanese club would need to go through the same steps as the U.S. teams.
Such a move would cause “instant excitement for Japanese baseball fans,” Niwa said. I suspect it would also draw the attention of many Americans who might not have tuned in during the World Baseball Classic.
Niwa identified one thing that would make it easier for NPB to state its case: “Keep winning the WBC.” He’s right, of course. Nothing attracts money and eyeballs quite like a score-settling international grudge match.