Ugly brawl highlights yet another flaw in the World Baseball Classic

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One of the ugliest scenes to take place on a baseball field in recent years just took place in Canada’s defeat of Mexico on Saturday. And while none of the participants should be let off the hook — I’d have been in favor of stopping the game and throwing both countries out of the tournament — there’s no way this would have happened if not for the World Baseball Classic’s ill-conceived tiebreaker rules.

Let’s set the scene. Canada was up 9-3 in the top of the ninth on its way to an easy win, it’s first of the tournament. Yet, that might not have been enough for its hopes of advancing. Catcher Chris Robinson sought to help Canada add to its lead by dropping down a bunt single to start the frame.

Now, in a major league game, that’s pure bush league. In the minors as well. Probably as low down as college and high school.

In the World Baseball Classic, though, it’s smart baseball. The tiebreakers hinge on run margin, and with four teams playing three games apiece in each pool, tiebreakers are going to come into play at least as often as not. It already did in Pool A, which produced three 2-1 teams. Korea went home because its run margin wasn’t as strong as that of The Netherlands or Chinese Taipei.

Of course, Mexico didn’t see it the same way Canada did. About to fall to 1-2 and get eliminated from the tournament, they weren’t having any of it. At third baseman Luis Cruz’s direction, Arnold Leon threw at Rene Tosoni twice, hitting him the second time and touching off a massive brawl that left several players bruised and might well have resulted in some more significant injuries.

All that needed to happen to prevent this scenario was for the tiebreaker rules to be tied to runs allowed, instead of run differential. It’s still far from perfect, but then, this tournament will never be anything close to perfect as long as MLB wants to try to play it alongside a 162-game season. I imagine we’ll see it changed next time around. Assuming that there is a next time around.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.