Last week, Team USA captured its first ever World Baseball Classic championship, led by a herculean effort from Marcus Stroman in the championship game against Puerto Rico. Team USA was not a favorite by any measure coming into the tournament for multiple reasons, the biggest being some teams simply had an unrivaled collection of talent. The Dominican Republic, for example, had a lineup featuring the likes of Manny Machado, Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz with ace Carlos Martinez anchoring the pitching staff.
While the Dominican Republic had a roster full of All-Stars, it’s not as if there is a lack of American talent available. United States general manager Joe Torre just wasn’t able to draw the best talent. Faces of the game like Kris Bryant, Clayton Kershaw, Bryce Harper, and Mike Trout (just to name a few) all declined to play in the tournament.
Obviously, when you can’t draw a trio of MVPs and a Cy Young winner, your team won’t be as strong as it maybe could be, but there’s also a secondary effect that happens. When these players are missing the tournament, it’s harder to get casual fans interested in what Team USA is doing. As baseball continues to trail football and basketball in popularity in America, the tournament then also loses steam.
That could all change with Team USA’s win, though. With the team entering the 2021 tournament as reigning champions, there is a possibility that some of the most notable names in the game will come out of the woodwork to support the cause and try to hold the trophy for another four years. That would undoubtedly boost popularity among American fans and would also promote better competition, as star players from other countries would likely join their respective nations so as to not fall behind. It only starts with one player committing, and then others will follow.
We saw this year, especially from the Dominican and Puerto Rican teams, that this tournament can be a lot of fun with the right players. With this past World Baseball Classic being the most watched and best rated in history, more superstars will likely want to participate next time around, which could mean the best tournament yet is to come in 2021.