MIAMI — Baseball fans from all around the world have been transfixed by the World Baseball Classic in 2023 and for good reason. The games have been exciting and you get to see stars that you might not see in the playoffs every year—Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout—in nationally televised games.
Team USA had a thrilling victory this Saturday over Team Venezuela and they defeated Team Cuba 14-2 on Sunday to make the finals—They await the winner of the Japan-Mexico matchup on Monday night.
But while a lot of fans are enjoying the tournament, others are not. It’s been an extremely polarizing subject this Spring because fans of the New York Mets and Houston Astros have watched as two of their All-stars suffered injuries of differing degrees. Mets’ closer Edwin Diaz suffered a severe knee injury in a post-game celebration after Team Puerto Rico defeated Team Dominican Republic.
He’s had surgery and if all goes well, it’s possible he could be back before the end of the regular season. And on Saturday night, Jose Altuve was hit in the thumb with a pitch by Team USA’s Daniel Bard, had to have surgery and will be out for 8-10 weeks with a fracture.
Hosts Millard Thomas of the Locked On Diamondbacks podcast and Paul Francis Sullivan of the Locked On MLB podcast talked about the WBC, the discourse surrounding it, and the risk players take participating in it on the latest episode of Sullivan’s show.
They both agreed that the WBC gives baseball fans the chance to watch meaningful games during spring training which isn’t always the case. Usually, spring training games are comprised of the first few innings being played by the guys who know and then being replaced by the kids trying to make the team or even just trying to make an impression so they can join the big club somewhere down the line.
In the WBC, you’re seeing guys like Trea Turner bash a team-leading four home runs for the U.S. squad and watching Mike Trout celebrate meaningful home runs for the first time in nearly a decade.
But the other side of it is the injuries to Diaz and Altuve and even Nolan Arenado who got his in his hand in the game against Cuba. As of the time of this article, his hand was not broken and he assured everyone, including his regular team, the Cardinals, that he was okay.
And let’s not leave out Yoan Moncada of the White Sox, who was playing for Team Cuba, who also had to leave the game on Sunday night after a collision in the outfield. He has a bruised rib.
Some of the discourse surrounding these injuries has people placing the blame on the WBC itself but that isn’t entirely fair. Injuries like this can happen at any time. Altuve easily could have been hit on the thumb with a pitch in August and had the same outcome. Diaz could have injured his knee making a play on the field. Arenado and Moncada also could have had the same injuries occur in the regular season.
The other part of the discourse is that some fans are calling the WBC games meaningless.
As Thomas explains, “These players want to play for the pride of their country,” which makes them the opposite of meaningless for them.
There is a lot to be said for playing for national pride and when you watch the games, you can see how excited the fans and players are about these games.
But Thomas also mentioned that there is some merit to the discourse of sending your best players to play in the tournament. There is always an injury risk involved with tournaments like this and you see it in other sports as well during the Olympics and in the FIFA World Cup.
But should MLB hold their star players back and not allow them to play in the WBC? That might be up to the individual owners and front offices. The New York Yankees made it a point to tell Luis Severino he couldn’t compete for the Dominican Republic team but teams overall are allowing their guys to participate.
As the WBC grows in popularity, more of these discussions will be brought up and debated among fans and baseball pundits, but for right now, baseball fans should sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.