De-westernize baseball, go global 

Japan player Shohei Ohtani (16) celebrates with his teammates after defeating the United States in World Baseball Classic championship game, Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Miami. Photo by Wilfredo Lee/AP Newsroom

Concluding what was arguably the true “March Madness” of this month, Japan added a third World Baseball Classic title to their portfolio. With an undefeated tournament and a nail-biting finish, team Japan has once again proven they are the unstoppable force that moved the seemingly immovable Team U.S.A. — referred to as “The Dream Team” throughout the tournament, an ode to the 1992 U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team who, unlike this U.S. team, went undefeated.  

This piece is not to compare the skill level or performance of these two teams, nor is it another argument advocating for Shohei Ohtani — who is to Japan as Ronaldo is to Portugal, or for you non-sports fans, as maple syrup is to Canada. Rather, the championship game between Japan and the U.S., and the entirety of the 2023 WBC, must be looked to as a shining opportunity to drastically improve the state of baseball worldwide.  

This WBC saved baseball from itself, or at least provided baseball the chance to do so. Japan’s third title makes a strong case that “America’s pastime” may no longer be applied to the U.S. alone. Latin American teams like Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela have routinely brought commanding teams to the past few WBC’s. Some other teams from Europe and around the world also bring strong competition, with the likes of Netherlands, Australia and Italy making a fair mark on this year’s tournament.  

Baseball has and is continuing to grow outside of the U.S., and it’s time we recognize this as a positive thing. Talks of the WBC as a pointless pre-season spectacle must be silenced by the opinions of players, many of which referred to the WBC as their Olympics. When interviewed, five Dominican players said the WBC was more important to them than the World Series. “Representing our country has no price,” they said. “The WBC is the real World Series,” they said. For many players, the chance to fight country-to-country far outweighs the city-to-city approach, and it’s time we listen to this sentiment.  

Puerto Rico catcher Martin Maldonado (15) looks back to the dugout as he approaches pitcher Jorge Lopez (48) during the seventh inning of a World Baseball Classic game against Mexico, Friday, March 17, 2023, in Miami. Mexico defeated Puerto Rico 5-4. Photo by Marta Lavandier/AP Newsroom

U.S. MLB teams are well invested in international development and scouting, with millions spent on training facilities, predominantly throughout Latin America. These programs, while offering top-level instruction for young players, all exist with the intention that these players eventually sign with an MLB team and contribute to jersey sales, ticket prices and general popularity. Upon reflection, one’s list of “the faces of the MLB” is often overrun with Latin American stars, with frequent mentions of Fernando Tatis Jr., Julio Rodriguez, Randy Arozarena and Yordan Alvarez — all of whom won Rookie of the Year titles in their respective first seasons. To be quite honest, a Latin American baseball league alone would rival the MLB in talent and energy.  

So why not make one? What’s stopping the MLB from fronting the money for the creation of a unified, Latin American league? The stadiums home to the teams of smaller leagues such as the Liga de Beisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente — Puerto Rico’s professional league — could be renovated. The leagues themselves would gain legitimacy as strong alternatives for Latino players, as younger prospects could grow in a more competitive league and be compensated without needing to leave their home countries or territories. The same argument can be applied to every country that shares the interests of baseball.   

Rather than gripping baseball’s history as an American-centric sport, embrace the reach it has exhibited through the WBC and the endless stream of international prospects — some of whom are regarded as the greatest players in history. The MLB would still serve as a strong option for talented players, just as American players find themselves competing in the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization — Japan’s professional league. I struggle to believe, upon the creation of MLB-esque counterparts in other nations, that players would exclusively opt for the MLB draft, though a couple hundred million dollars is hard to pass up. But who’s to say that these contracts can only exist in the MLB? 

Soccer — football, fútbol, etc. — exists as a strong role model in this way: Fans of the sport are treated to championship games in various competitive leagues across Europe and the world; The Champion’s League allows for the strongest teams from each of these leagues to compete against one another; and the World Cup, much like the WBC, offers players the opportunity to play wearing the flags of their home countries. Imagine an annual tournament in which the strongest MLB, NPBO and hypothetical Latin American league teams compete. There already exists a strong international audience — a game between Japan and Korea yielded 62 million viewers in Japan alone. That’s almost half the country’s population, and almost five times the average viewership of, get this, the 2022 World Series.  

It’s an opportunity for symbiosis that hasn’t presented itself to American sports in a long time. The MLB, through funding the promotion of new international leagues, would still exist as the ‘parent league’ of sorts, retaining all its glory while also claiming responsibility for the internationalization of professional baseball. Drawing a distinction between expansion for the sake of profit and expansion for the sake of community wellbeing would generate revenue for areas home to these newly founded professional teams, thus boosting the economies of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and any other country that wishes to be included. This year’s WBC proved — for the fourth time — that the U.S. is no longer the king of baseball, and it’s time we embrace this.  

And for god’s sake, can we rename the “World” Series to the American Series?  


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