Mar 17, 2023

Do The Risks Outweigh The Reward?

Photo Credit:  Sam Navarro (USA Today Sports)

Edwin Diaz
New York Mets (2023)
After striking out the side and earning a save to close out Puerto Rico's Wednesday night victory against the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, Mets closer Edwin Diaz suffered an injury to his right knee while celebrating on the field.  As a result, he is expected to miss the 2023 season.

The elephant in the room is the fact that this happened at the World Baseball Classic - a series of exhibition games that, like the All-Star Game, stand separate from the 2023 season. When you strip away the marketing, the tournament is essentially a clever gimmick cooked up by Major League Baseball to exploit the national pride of the players and the fans to lure a global audience to their product.

On the surface, I have no problem with this.  If it draws new fans into the sport, that's great.  However, I'd be lying if I said that I have any interest in how Team USA is doing in the tournament.  I could not care less if they win every game in a blowout, or if they're no-hit by every country in the world.  The only attention I've ever paid to it is to see how current and former members of the Phillies are doing, regardless of which country they represent.  Many of the players and fans take a greater interest in this than I do, and I respect that.  However, I can't help but to chuckle about the national pride sales pitch when I remember that Shane Victorino, who is of Hawaiian and Portuguese heritage, was recruited to play for Team Italy in the 2006 World Baseball Classic because they thought his last name sounded Italian.

I suppose that the reason that I don't care too much about this tournament is the fact that I really don't have any national pride.  My nationality is purely an accident of birth; I happened to be born to American parents in Pennsylvania.  Being proud of that makes about as much sense to me as taking pride in the cleanliness of the bathrooms of the hospital where I was born.  My nationality is not an accomplishment, so Major League Baseball's efforts to use it to make a buck isn't something that I'm ever going to be receptive toward.  Would I feel differently if I was from Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic?  I don't know... maybe... maybe not.  It's a moot point though, because I'm not.

I'd be much more interested in the World Baseball Classic if it was an exhibition of amateur, collegiate and minor league players who aren't on the active roster of an MLB team (or the equivalent pro league of other countries).  It would give future stars of the sport a place to showcase their abilities and compete for national pride in a way that could benefit their career... especially if it took place in the Fall instead of immediately following the winter.  Spring Training is held for a reason... to give the players an opportunity to ramp up slowly and prepare for the season.  Coming out of a long winter layoff and being tossed immediately into an emotionally charged tournament is not at all the same thing.

The Edwin Diaz injury is a direct result of his participation in the World Baseball Classic.  Players are pushing themselves much harder in the WBC than they ever would in a Spring Training game, so instead of slowly ramping up to begin a long and grueling season, they're putting unnecessary wear and tear on their body.  Innings can add up pretty quickly, so that alone puts a pitcher at a disadvantage for the regular season.  The fact that the injury took place while celebrating after the win doesn't absolve the WBC of responsibility.  I strongly doubt that Diaz would be pitching and celebrating like it's Game 7 of the World Series at the end of a Spring Training game in Port St. Lucie, no matter how many mock celebrations the Mets have.

The bottom line is that, yes, injuries can happen anywhere, but this injury didn't happen at some random place and time... it happened while an MLB player was competing for a team other than the one who is paying his salary.  If Diaz was an avid skateboarder and suffered an injury on Wednesday competing for Team Puerto Rico in an international skateboarding competition, I suspect that the fans, the media, and the league would be lining up to lay blame and to ask the question of whether or not this should void his contract... just ask Jim Lonborg.  But because it happened at the World Baseball Classic, everybody's just supposed to shrug their shoulders and pretend that it's no different than if it happened during Spring Training or a regular season game.

The Mets will not have their elite closer, who they just signed to a $102 million dollar extension, for the entire 2023 season.  I'm a Phillies fan, so this actually helps my team's chances of getting to the playoffs, but I'm not happy about this in the slightest.  It's a damn shame, and it didn't have to happen.

So, does the reward of the World Baseball Classic outweigh the risk?  Go to Citi Field this season and ask a Mets fan.