Overtime: Why the World Baseball Classic is Essential


The WBC means so much for everyone globally, not just MLB fans. (Courtesy of Twitter)

The fifth edition of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) concluded last night, with Japan taking home the gold medal with a 3-2 victory over the United States in the Championship. The WBC is baseball’s premier international tournament, with stars from all around the world representing their native countries in a 20-team tournament.

By nearly all accounts, this year’s WBC was a resounding success. Global stars like Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout suited up for their respective countries in a tournament that displayed the intense passion that countries all over the world have for baseball.

Television viewership numbers, attendance and merchandise sales were up massively across the globe from the last edition of the WBC in 2017. Using these metrics, this year’s WBC was the most successful edition of the tournament ever, showing the truly global nature of baseball in 2023.
But there is a subset of fans who continue to rally against the WBC. Last week, New York Mets closer Edwin Diaz tore the patellar tendon in his right knee while celebrating Puerto Rico’s massive win over the Dominican Republic. The injury was a freak accident, with Diaz playfully jumping up and down alongside his teammates before suddenly collapsing to the floor in agony. This has a huge impact on the Mets, who lose arguably the best closer in baseball and one of the key reasons why the team won 100 games last year.

Some Mets fans, angered at losing Diaz for the entire season, took to social media to blame the WBC for his injury. The tournament was called unnecessary, with people arguing that Major League Baseball is far more important and that players opting to represent their country are doing their MLB team and its fans a disservice by putting themselves at risk for injury.

While I sympathize with the anger of Mets fans (I am a huge fan of the team myself), these criticisms of the WBC are both unwarranted and problematic. First, Diaz’s injury didn’t even occur in the context of a game. It was a freak accident that could have happened anywhere, at any time.
To act like players are inherently putting themselves at risk by participating in the WBC is just plain wrong. Players get injured all the time. That’s the nature of baseball. Also last week, Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo injured his knee and ankle while sliding into second base during a spring training game. His injury is less severe then Diaz’s, but Nimmo is still expected to miss a few weeks of action.

Nimmo and Diaz play for the same Major League team, and Nimmo’s injury actually occurred during game-action. Yet no Mets fans are calling to cancel spring training. Nimmo is also extremely valuable to the Mets, and losing him to injury will without a doubt have a negative effect on the team. But the outrage is different, and I don’t think it entirely has to do with the difference in severity of their injuries.

Many of the attempts to discredit the WBC have underlying themes of ignorance in regards to foreign cultures and how important a sport like baseball is to countries around the world. It’s true that Major League Baseball is the premier baseball league in the world, but many of its best players hail from foreign countries. Someone like Ohtani, who is a once-in-a-generation type player, rarely gets to compete in his native Japan. The WBC allowed him to do that, and you could see how much it meant to Japanese people.

Stadiums in Japan were electric as Ohtani got the opportunity to compete in front of a home crowd that was united under one flag. The same can be said for the WBC action that occurred in Miami, with the city’s large Dominican and Puerto Rican populations coming out to support their respective teams.

Thinking only about your favorite MLB team and not being able to recognize the importance of the WBC to millions of international baseball fans is an extremely U.S.-centric view that shows no regard for the rest of the world. Injuries are a part of sports, and yes, injuries have occurred and will continue to occur at the WBC. That’s not a good enough reason to get rid of a competition that is so beneficial to the continued global development of baseball.

Japanese people deserve to see Shohei Ohtani suit up for Japan just as much as Mets fans deserve to watch Edwin Diaz take the mound in the ninth inning. It’s unfortunate that both won’t occur in 2023, but the WBC is certainly not the thing to blame.