Japanese squad celebrates; rest ponder ways to improve Classic
Japan defeated Cuba 10-6 in the championship game.
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Baseball threw one heck of a party.
Even as Ichiro Suzuki was drenched in champagne and a blizzard of confetti covered parts of the infield, it was clear the sport itself was as big a winner as Japan in the inaugural World Baseball Classic.
An American ballpark rocked with Caribbean and Asian fervor -- there were plenty of U.S. touches, too, just not the home country's team -- as Japan beat Cuba 10-6 in the championship game Monday night.
"Apart from the Olympics, I really wanted this WBC tournament to be the event that decides the true world champions, so that's why I participated," Suzuki said through a translator. "This is probably the biggest moment of my baseball career."
While New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner griped about the WBC -- and the format, tie-breakers and umpiring were flawed -- Suzuki went the other way.
"It's not an ideal thing for a player to think, but I really didn't care if I would get injured in this game. That's how much I really wanted to win this one. That's how we were driven to this championship," Suzuki said.
Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda understands. As the WBC's ambassador at large, he made promotional trips to Tokyo, Phoenix, Orlando and San Juan, Puerto Rico, before the games began, then returned to each city during pool play. Played on two continents, the WBC drew 737,112 fans.
"Last night was a good example of what this thing is all about -- the reaction of the people," Lasorda said Tuesday. "That's what made this thing a tremendous success.
"Look, there's two teams playing, and I think only one major league player among them, maybe two. Still, there were 42,000 fans, and the excitement wasn't the fact that they maybe just had tickets and had to go, but the excitement was already there. That's the way it's been."
While the Classic certainly was a success and turned out better than many expected, there are aspects that should be tweaked before the next one in 2009.
The tie-breakers were nothing short of ludicrous, confusing even big leaguers who can figure out batting averages in their head. Japan advanced to the semifinals based on fewest earned runs allowed in the second round. In baseball, it doesn't matter if you win 10-9 or 2-1. Teams must play enough games to be eliminated on wins and losses alone. This isn't soccer.
The umpiring at times was abysmal.
Although there seems to be no perfect time to hold the tournament, there's probably a better time than the middle of March. Maybe at the end of spring training would be better, or maybe MLB could delay the start of its 162-game season so the WBC could be held in early April. Or copy the NHL's Olympic break and have a longer All-Star break, staging the tournament in July when players are in midseason form.
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