Morosi is disappointed in U.S. stars for dissing the WBC. Here’s why he’s wrong.

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The U.S. team for the World Baseball Classic was announced this morning and, no, not all of the big U.S. stars are on the roster. Not present are Buster Posey, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Justin Verlander,Clayton Kershaw, David Price and many, many more.

Some may view this as a matter of professionals putting their professional obligations first. Jon Paul Morosi, however, finds it to be evidence of a bad attitude on the part of the big stars:

We should want to reassert our supremacy in the sport, particularly when considering our all-time WBC record suggests precisely such a statement is needed. Instead, it seems several American stars see the WBC as a matter of convenience rather than an obligation to country and sport. They don’t want to play entering their walk year. They don’t want to play if they just changed teams, signed a big contract or went to the postseason. They will do it, only if the timing is exactly right.

For just about every other participating nation, the opposite is true …

Morosi slams the non-participating players like Trout for making “lame excuses” and being “idle heroes.”**

All of which is pretty weak sauce to me.  Morosi says that worries about injury risk some non-participants have aren’t reasonable, but his argument that playing in the WBC somehow better prepares players for the season aren’t very convincing themselves (note: perhaps the reason more non-WBC players were on the disabled list the April after the last WBC was because they were also less than 100% at WBC time). And at no point does he acknowledge how important a normal routine is to baseball players. These guys are the ultimate creatures of habit, and to think that radically messing with their habits is no big deal is to fail to understand what makes ballplayers tick.

But his larger point is that there is some unique obligation on the part of the U.S. to go full-bore into the WBC:

The US remains the structural center of the baseball universe, producing more than 70 percent of current major-league players and serving as the base for 29 of its 30 teams. The game is richer, greater and more diverse than it’s ever been. Those are manifestly positive developments. Yet, because of how the history of our nation is intertwined with the history of the sport, the US bears a unique responsibility to grow the WBC as the sport’s premier international tournament.

A large part of that obligation is showing up. And it would be nice to win once in a while, too.

Actually, I see those facts as reasons why U.S. players don’t have to show up for the WBC. Unlike some other countries, the U.S. has nothing to prove in baseball. No one will argue that Major League Baseball isn’t the pinnacle of the sport, and that it is here, in the MLB, where a player’s mettle is truly tested.  And yes, it is true that the game is more diverse than it has ever been. Indeed, MLB has become a wonderful melting pot of nationalities and its diversity is ever-increasing.  Which makes country-against-country tournaments like the WBC seem like some sort of anachronism, really. A nationalist contest that is really beside the point in this increasingly international sport.

The WBC is kinda cool. Not gonna doubt that.  But to suggest that it is somehow more important than the MLB regular season, and that players who prioritize that regular season over the WBC are making poor choices, is frankly laughable.

 

**An earlier version of this post characterized Jon Paul Morosi’s criticism of players who do not participate in the WBC as one based on the players’ lack of patriotism. My reason for saying so was that it was my view, based on the entirety of his column, that he was, in fact, questioning players’ patriotism even if he did not intend to.  

In the past few hours Morosi and I have had an offline discussion in which he explained what he was getting at with yesterday’s column. Rather than lack of patriotism, he explained, he was criticizing the attitude of players who have an “insufficient perspective and awareness” of their obligations and the importance of the WBC.  While Morosi and I still likely disagree about all of this, I appreciate that questioning the patriotism of others is a serious charge and that, whatever my takeaway from Morosi’s column was, it was not his intention to do such a thing.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉