The Hamilton Spectator

World Baseball Classic keeps growing despite injury risks


Shohei Ohtani’s strikeout of Mike Trout, Trea Turner’s goahead, eighth-inning grand slam against Venezuela, Japan’s walk-off semifinal win and Mexico’s comeback from a four-run deficit against Puerto Rico will be replayed over and over.

Edwin Díaz’s season-ending knee injury and José Altuve’s broken finger will be discussed all year, too.

This year’s World Baseball Classic left lasting memories, 47 games over two weeks that restored Japan’s supremacy and reinforced Ohtani’s unmatched ability while expanding the sport’s global footprint.

While not an internatio­nal fixation like soccer’s World Cup, the event has grown though its five editions since launching in 2006.

“This is kind of our Olympics. We don’t get that opportunit­y to really play wherever the Olympics are at,” Kyle Schwarber said before the Americans lost to Japan, 3-2, in Tuesday night’s final, when Ohtani fanned Trout to seal Japan’s first title since 2009 and third overall. Baseball is no longer a permanent Olympic sport, and Samurai Japan beat a U.S. team stocked with minor leaguers for gold when baseball was temporaril­y restored at the previous Games.

Played in Miami, Phoenix, Tokyo and Taiwan, the star-studded WBC will finish with revenue of $90 million to $100 million (U.S.), Major League Baseball said. Attendance of 1,306,414 was the tournament’s highest, 20 per cent over the 1,086,720 for 40 games in 2017.

This year’s semifinals on FS1 and Fox Deportes averaged 2.4 million viewers, up 96 per cent from the semis in 2017, when the tournament was televised by MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.

“One of the things that was really important this time around was Fox stepping up to broadcast the games,” baseball commission­er Rob Manfred said. “Nobody’s a bigger fan of the MLB Network than I am but, when you have one of the major broadcaste­rs step up and want the event, that’s a huge deal.”

Concerns about player health have followed the tourney since its inception. Many MLB teams blocked pitchers from participat­ing, wanting them to concentrat­e on preparing for the season’s start. Injuries to Díaz and Altuve reinforced those concerns.

But with MLB generating revenue and global interest from the tourney, and players eager to represent their home countries, the injury risks seem unlikely to slow the WBC’s growth.

“We all care for each other and no one wants to get hurt,” Francisco Lindor, Díaz’s teammate on Team Puerto Rico and the New York Mets, told reporters Tuesday. “But we all love our countries and want to represent our countries . ... We have an opportunit­y to represent our countries and learn from our peers. It’s amazing.”

Japan drew three of the four most-watched WBC games ever back home going into the championsh­ip game, getting a 48.7 rating for the quarterfin­al against Italy, 44.4 for the first-round game against South Korea and a 42.5 for the semifinal vs. Mexico. The figures represent the percentage of television households tuned to a telecast.

The team’s victory sparked a nationwide celebratio­n back home. The country’s top circulatin­g newspaper, Yomiuri, rolled out a special Wednesday afternoon edition for commuters, usually reserved for serious matters of state, late-breaking election news, or as it was last year — the assassinat­ion of former prime minister Shinzo Abe. “Japan, the World’s No. 1,” the headline read in Japanese.

Mexico anticipate­d its run to the last four will increase attention to the sport in a nation where soccer dominates.

“These two weeks are going to attract so many young players in Mexico and also Mexicans that live abroad,” manager Benji Gil said.

Following an expansion from 16 nations to 20, Britain, the Czech Republic and Nicaragua reached the tournament for the first time. All failed to advance past the group phase.

China and Israel twice had games cut short by the mercy rule, and Britain and Canada one each.

Group A was so competitiv­e that all five nations finished 2-2, with Cuba and Italy advancing over the Netherland­s, Taiwan and Panama via a mathematic­al tiebreaker: runs allowed divided by outs.

“Obviously, a lot of countries are getting better at the game of baseball,” U.S. manager Mark DeRosa said. “I thought Colombia, man, the arms they were running out there, they weren’t name guys, but everyone was sitting 92 to 95 (m.p.h.) and had pretty decent stuff.”

Nicaraguan pitcher Duque Hebbert even managed to turn one memorable inning into a pro contract, signing a minor-league deal with the Detroit Tigers after striking out all-stars Juan Soto, Julio Rodríguez and Rafael Devers.

MLB and the players’ associatio­n have committed to the next WBC in March 2026.

 ?? ?? Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani
 ?? ?? José Altuve
José Altuve
 ?? ?? Edwin Diaz
Edwin Diaz
 ?? ?? Mike Trout
Mike Trout

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