World Baseball Classic Attracts Competitive Talent despite Injury Concerns

Clayton Kershaw throws a pitch. His withdrawal from the tournament, top talent will still compete in the World Baseball Classic despite injury concerns from their respective pro clubs.
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

World Baseball Classic Will Have Top Talent despite Injury Concerns

PHOENIX, Feb. 17 — For a long time, the soccer world engaged in the “club versus country” debate whenever an international tournament rolled around. Professional clubs were hesitant to let their stars play in international tournaments for fear of injury. Eventually FIFA stepped in and mandated that the clubs let their stars play when they were called up to the national teams. To protect the financial assets the clubs have invested in the players, they have insurance policies in case of injury. But the clubs are still nervous, and understandably so. The same holds true with Major League Baseball regarding the upcoming World Baseball Classic. While there doesn’t seem to be much of a club versus country debate in baseball — after all, Major League Baseball helped create the tournament — the injury fears are still real.

Support for Playing in the World Baseball Classic

The nine people interviewed — six managers, two general managers, and the Commissioner of Baseball — expressed universal support for major league participation in the tournament.

Commissioner Rob Manfred

“The results this year demonstrate two things. A lot of players — not every single one, but a lot of players — place tremendous value on an opportunity to play with their country’s name on their chest. And I get that, 100%. The change this year is we have seen less resistance from clubs in terms of making players available and actually meaning it in terms of their availability to play. And I think a big piece of that is a credit to the professionalism of the staff and the various countries. You can actually work with the WBC staff in a way that allows the player to get ready consistent with the desires of the club.”

Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo

“The players that keep coming back year after year talking about the intensity of it, how exciting it is, and how much they enjoy the experience. What more can you do as a player than to go out and represent your country the best way you know how? These players should be very proud to have this opportunity, and our guys are.”

Cleveland Guardians manager Terry Francona

“…it’s really cool for the guys. Because they’re playing with guys that you sometimes grew up with, or someone from their home country that — I’m sure they take a ton of pride in that. You see all the excitement when you see Venezuela playing the Dominican, and it’s good for the game.”

Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes

“It feels like the WBC has created a really strong buzz around the game, which is fantastic. As far as our players, we’ve had conversations. I’ve talked through how it’s gonna play out and made sure that everybody’s comfortable with the participation. We love the passion and the desire of our guys that want to go out there and compete on that stage. So it’s all about supporting and having those conversations and making sure everything makes sense for all parties.

Texas Rangers general manager Chris Young

“I’m generally supportive of ways that we can grow our game. Certainly, the WBC has done a great job of that, promoting the game of baseball and allowing players to represent their country, which in baseball, you don’t have many opportunities to do. It’s a special event, and I’m looking forward to watching it.”

Los Angeles Angels manager Phil Nevin

“I was fortunate enough that, when I was in college, I got to play in the Olympics and wear ‘USA’ across my chest. I’ve encouraged all our guys. I’m excited for them. I know it’s a great experience for them. I’m looking forward to watching the games and watching our guys compete, so I think it’s gonna be a good experience for everybody.”

Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black

“I like it. And I’m seeing that from a player’s standpoint. What a great honor to represent your country and play basically in an all-star game type of tournament. And I think it’s something that fans enjoy, can get involved with for a couple-week period, and really enjoy it. I think it’s good for baseball, and it’s good for baseball internationally. So I think in the grand picture, it’s great. I know the players like it. It’s a nice diversion for the players to get with other great players like an all-star game.”

San Diego Padres manager Bob Melvin

“I understand it. When you get a chance to play for your country, it’s tough to pass up. I’ve never done it before. I would love to. So when my players come to me and say they want to play in the WBC, obviously you worry about injury and so forth. But you realize that this is an opportunity that you don’t get very often.”

Anxious Feelings about Injury in World Baseball Classic

Ah, yes. The injury worry. Two managers, immediately after praising the tournament, mentioned the injury worry.

Bud Black

“Conversely, I worry. I worry like hell. Especially about the pitching. I don’t worry so much about the position players, but I worry about the pitching. I worry about the intensity of that first pitch that’s thrown, you know, by a pitcher. Is he ready? Is he throwing too hard? Too much effort too early, all that stuff.”

Terry Francona

“The way we’ve chosen to handle it is we fully support our guys because it’s a huge honor. Saying that, we hold our breath. We want them to come back every bit as healthy as when they left. Because, truth be told, some of these guys — there’s a reason you have spring training and the progressions. Some of these guys are going to be going from a spring training outing to trying to throw a breaking ball in front of 55,000 people that they may not physically be ready to do. It makes you nervous. Now, I think it’s good. I understand why they do it. It’s good for the game. We’re trying to grow the game. And like I said, it’s a huge honor, so we support our guys. But when they come back, we’ll be so happy when they look like they’re okay.”

Worry and Trust

One manager and the two general managers mentioned the injury worry but are trusting that the players will be in good hands.

Texas Rangers manager and former Team France manager Bruce Bochy

“I think there’s always a little bit of the fear factor. You like to have your players around in spring training, but also understand that it’s good for the game. The WBC has created a lot of interest in the game, and you’re for that. Our job is to promote the game. We don’t have many players going, but we have trust that if they do go, they’ll get taken care of.”

Chris Young, when asked if he worries about injuries

“[Chuckling] Of course, but you’re nervous if they’re in camp too. So I’m not losing sleep over it. Certainly, we like the medical attention that we can give our guys on a daily basis, but it hasn’t prevented us from encouraging our players to go play if they desire to do so.”

Brandon Gomes

“(The fear of injury) is certainly not zero. But I don’t think we can function that way. It’s very much like, ‘Hey, let’s make sure everybody’s as prepared as possible and doing all the right things.’ And we understand that it’s a really great opportunity and good for the game for us to go out there. So it’s always an open dialogue. And guys go out there knowing that they’re fully prepared and had the proper conversations ahead of time.”

Outlook

Since these interviews, Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw had to withdraw from the tournament. While Kershaw did not go into specifics, word has emerged that it was because he could not get an insurance policy. According to World Baseball Classic rules, all participants must have an insurance policy. The mere existence of this rule shows the desire for the ballclubs and the national baseball teams to work together toward having the best players participate in the tournament.

Soccer’s “club versus country” debate has shifted away from the clash between the professional clubs and the national federations. Now it focuses more on where fans’ rooting loyalties should lie. With the World Baseball Classic being in its fifth iteration, it feels like there isn’t much of a “club versus country” debate regarding whether players with large contracts should participate.

Number of players participating from the teams represented by the interviewees

Arizona Diamondbacks

13 players — five position players, seven minor-league pitchers, and one major-league pitcher

Cleveland Guardians

Nine players — five position players, two minor-league pitchers, and two major-league pitchers

Colorado Rockies

Seven players — two position players, one minor-league pitcher, and four major-league pitchers (excludes major-league pitcher Germán Márquez, who will miss the first round due to injury)

Los Angeles Angels

19 players — seven position players, three minor-league pitchers, and nine major-league pitchers

Los Angeles Dodgers

Nine players — eight position players and one major-league pitcher

San Diego Padres

15 players — seven position players, five minor-league pitchers, and three major-league pitchers

Texas Rangers

Three players — one minor-league pitcher and two major-league pitchers

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Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan is the owner and sole contributor of Thompson Talks, a website discussing the Big Four North American Pro Sports as well as soccer. He also is a credentialed member of the Colorado Rockies press corps. His first and biggest love is baseball.

Evan lives in Gilbert, Arizona and loves history, especially of sports. He is the treasurer for the Hemond Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and also is a USSF and AIA soccer referee. He released his first book, Volume I of A Complete History of the Major League Baseball Playoffs, in October of 2021.

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