If you were anything like me this summer, you spent hours upon hours glued to your TV watching the 2016 Summer Olympics. You had to see if Team USA could bring back the gold in basketball yet again. You couldn’t miss Usain Bolt as he once again attempted to break his own world record. You had to see just how many gold medals Michael Phelps would end up with before finishing his career (so he says).
If you were like me, you were also bummed to not see the best baseball players compete on a world stage. Now, I know baseball hasn’t been in the Olympics since 2008 (although it sounds like it could return in 2020). And I know that when baseball was in the Olympics the best talent in the world weren’t even participating. But I still sat there glued to my TV, wishing that we could see Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, and many of MLB’s best players walking into the opening ceremonies alongside players like Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and Carmelo Anthony.
Luckily for us, there is still a way to watch the world’s best baseball players duke it out every four years. It may not be quite as big as the Olympics, there may not be quite as much pomp and circumstance, but the World Baseball Classic still gives us a chance to root for our home county while watching the game we love. Fortunately, the World Baseball Classic is back again in 2017 for the fourth time.
Although it has only been a few weeks since the Cubs closed out the 2016 season with a World Series championship, many players have already announced their intention to participate in the tournament. Pittsburg Pirate infielder Jung Ho Kang announced he will be playing shortstop for South Korea. A trio of Baltimore Orioles players announced just a few days ago that they would be participating, with Manny Machado playing for the Dominican Republic, Adam Jones playing for the United States, and Jonathan Schoop playing for the Netherlands. Most recently, Colorado Rockies All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado announced he would be playing for the United States alongside fellow All-Stars Max Scherzer and Buster Posey.
What we haven’t heard yet is whether any Dodgers players plan on participating in this year’s games. We haven’t heard that Yasiel Puig will be playing for Mexico (yes… I said that correctly). We haven’t heard that Kenta Maeda will play for Japan. Most importantly, we haven’t heard that Clayton Kershaw will pitch for the United States.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not say that whether Kershaw will pitch is the most important because it is the United States we are talking about. I say it is most important because Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the world. I mean, does the World Baseball Classic really mean anything if the best players in the world are not participating in it? Does hoisting a championship trophy really mean as much if you didn’t have to go through the best there is to get it?
Winning the World Baseball Classic is definitely something to be proud of. In fact, some would say it is a bigger deal than winning the World Series. But I simply cannot agree until players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw are in the game. As it stands right now, without these players in the tournament, winning the World Series is much more difficult than winning the World Baseball Classic.
So why is it that these players aren’t participating? Why is it that the best of the best are watching the tournament with the rest of us? The answer is anything but simple. Every player has their reasons for playing or not playing. Every player has different motivations. Every player has different priorities.
For some, the most important thing in their lives is ensuring that they have a long career so they can provide for themselves and for their families. The World Baseball Classic poses a risk to that goal, especially for younger less established players. All it takes is one play, one pitch, and all of a sudden that player is nursing an injury for months or even years to come. For others, especially the most established of players, players who have already proven everything they can in the majors, they want the honor of representing their country on a world stage.
Another reason some of these players do not participate has nothing to do with their personal goals or beliefs at all. Although there is no hard evidence of this, I am sure many of the team’s have instructed, or at least strongly hinted, that they do not want their best players playing due to risk that it could affect the upcoming season or even seasons. The hard truth is that baseball is a business first, a national past time second, at least in the eyes of those that run the teams. Can you really blame them? If I over 2 billion dollars on a baseball team I would probably tell my best pitcher to sit this one out too.
But I am not a major league owner, and I did not spend billions of dollars on a baseball team, so I can safely say that I want to see Clayton Kershaw pitch in the World Baseball Classic this March. I want to see the world’s best face off against the world’s best. If Clayton Kershaw is not wearing a team USA jersey, that simply is not happening.
Will this actually happen? That’s a lot harder to say with certainty. A year ago I would have likely said that the odds were good he would be suiting up. Kershaw seems like the type of person who would jump at the opportunity to represent his country on the biggest of stages. But with the way the 2016 season went for Kershaw, with the type of injury he had to battle through, the odds are probably against it.
Kershaw did come back in the last month of the season strong. In fact, Kershaw helped the Dodgers make a late push for the playoffs and even had a dominate outing in October against the eventual World Series Champion Cubs. That does not mean that he, or the Dodgers, will feel comfortable with him going out and throwing a number of stressful innings in a tournament that in the end means nothing to the organization though.
What has Kershaw said about playing? So far he has not said much but what he has said is encouraging. Kershaw has said that he wants to pitch in the World Baseball Classic. However, as expected, he says that he is prioritizing his health and will likely sit this one out. Well he will likely sit this one out at least for the beginning of the tournament.
With the semifinals and the championship being held at Dodgers Stadium this year and under newly revised World Baseball Classic rules, Kershaw could be added to the roster in between rounds if team USA makes it that far. Many have even speculated that if the United States makes it to the championship game, Clayton Kershaw will be the guy on the mound trying to bring the trophy to the United States for the first time.
Even though it isn’t exactly what I would have liked to see, it seems that it will be the closest we are going to get. Here is to hoping the United States can make it far enough to see the best pitcher in the world on one of the biggest stages this March playing against the best opponents the world has to offer.