Tuesday, November 09, 2004

It's a Small World After All

I'm taking a little break from the Twins speculation and analysis today to touch on a general baseball news item from the other day. Hope you enjoy this little change of pace. We'll be back to covering everyone's favorite nine tomorrow.

The world, as they say, is becoming smaller and smaller each day. There is no longer such thing as a national economy; there is only the global economy. With improvements in technology, I can now reach Marty in Pakistan as easily as I can Andy across campus.

The sports world also seems to be getting smaller. A large percentage of professional hockey players come from outside the U.S. and Canada. Professional baseball and basketball debut new imports every year, and many of them become stars and flourish. World competition is also at an all-time high. Soccer’s World Cup is one of the most highly anticipated sporting events. Hockey held it’s first-ever World Cup this fall, and the reaction was very positive (it also happened to be the last game that many NHL players will play for a very long time).

These developments have not gone unnoticed at the offices of Major League Baseball. The idea of a baseball World Cup is one that has been tossed around for years, especially by those who doubt the legitimacy of the “World” Series because it does not include the entire world. Yet the concept was always been considered a pipe dream; that is, until last summer. Commissioner Bud Selig revealed that plans were underway to hold a 16-team invitational World Cup tournament in March of 2005. However, the negotiations hit a snafu when some countries (most notably Japan) objected to the fact that the tournament was to be held only in the U.S.

Last week, that roadblock was overcome, as it was decided that one branch of the tournament would be held in Asia, with winners advancing to the finals in the U.S. The late decision also means that March 2006, not next year, will likely be when this project comes to fruition.

Although it may seem a tad premature to look forward with any assurance (especially when the participation of the player’s union and TV networks have yet to be finalized) the possibilities are nothing short of mind-boggling. The United States would probably field the deepest team (Roger Clemens would barely make the squad!) but they would not be the favorites by much.

Sure a lineup consisting of future Hall of Famers Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Todd Helton, and Gary Sheffield would be imposing (to say the least), but even they would be hard-pressed to score against a Venezuelan team with AL Cy Young award winner Johan Santana and Angels strikeout machine Frankie Rodriguez.

The tiny nations of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico (which is technically a U.S. territory, but would be allowed to field its own team) would be more than formidable as well. Imagine Pedro Martinez and his Dominican teammates Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, and Vladimir Guerrero squaring off against Carlos Beltran, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado and the rest of the Puerto Rican All-Stars. Perennial Olympic gold-medalist Cuba would hold its own, and the Japanese squad would be greatly strengthened from the additions of major league superstars Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui. Even our neighbors from the north might get into the action with the help of Canadians (and current Minnesota Twins) Corey Koskie and Justin Morneau. The mere possibilities are enough to make any baseball fan salivate in anticipation.

The beauty of a baseball World Cup is that it would have something for everybody. Fans would get to see meaningful competition featuring the world’s best at a time at a time when most people are tired of spring training. The players would have a chance to compete for national pride, an opportunity that Latin American players will especially relish (the Caribbean World Series is already wildly popular event each winter). TV networks and advertisers will have a surefire ratings-topper to fill the “dead time” between the Super Bowl and the NCAA basketball tournament. And major league baseball stands to make a tidy profit, which was obviously the motivation behind the whole tournament all along.

If indeed all this could become a reality, baseball may someday have an event that rivals soccer’s own World Cup in terms of scope and popularity. It does remain to be seen whether multi-million dollar superstars like Bonds could be convinced to participate, or whether owners like George Steinbrenner would allow their highly-paid investments to play, but many people are confident that such hurdles can be overcome.

Nothing is official just yet, but preparations are scheduled to get underway next month with an official announcement coming in the spring. However, one thing is for certain: come March of 2006, the baseball fans from around the globe will be watching.