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The WBC Needs To Be In November. Here's How to Schedule It.

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The World Baseball Classic is wrong. It's paradoxically too competitive for players at this point in the spring, and not competitive enough -- thanks to pitch counts and a mercy rule -- to count as a real substitute for Olympic baseball. Players are pulled by guilt complexes in two directions, away from the Classic by injury-fearing teams, and away from their teams by patriotism. Almost all of these problems could be solved or drastically ameliorated by moving the Classic later in the year.

USA Today came out with a particularly damning study of the 2006 Classic: "USA TODAY analyzed regular-season statistics of every major league pitcher who participated in the spring tournament. The results show nearly four out of every five pitchers recorded a higher ERA in 2006 than they did in the previous year (among the 59 who pitched at least 20 innings each year). And more than one in three spent time on the disabled list in 2006." Most people assume the World Baseball Classic increases players' likelihoods of getting injured because it calls for them to play at a higher level than they're physically ready for that early in the spring. Some players dispute it: Chipper Jones said, "I don't know that it wouldn't have happened in Orlando... In spring training, I'm no less aggressive than I would have been here."

Still, it's a persuasive correlation. This year, the USA Team's Chipper Jones, Dustin Pedroia, Matt Lindstrom, and Ryan Braun have all been hurt in the Classic, and Mexico's Luis Ayala suffered a season-ending and career-altering injury in the 2006 Classic.

For some players, one of the biggest problems has been not just the time of year, but the scheduling of the games. Kevin Youkilis mentioned that it can be harder to allow an injury to heal normally, saying: "More guys sit out in spring training because something is tweaked, and they miss a day. In the WBC, you don't have a chance to sit out for two days. If you sit out for two days, you're done for the whole round. The games happen so quick there's no time to be injured." Chipper added, "I wouldn't do it again under the current format. There's way too many days off. This tournament could be over by now."

There were so many injuries to the USA team that Brian McCann played left field on Sunday, and manager Davey Johnson threatened that the team might have to forfeit if more people went down.

Look, we all know that Chipper Jones is extraordinarily fragile at this point. So, while that means that it's true he might get injured anywhere at any time, that also means that his body simply won't allow him to go all-out without taking his time to work himself up to speed. Pedroia and Braun are a lot younger and should have a little more leeway to treat their bodies badly, but a lot of teams are going to lay the hammer down in the future if the WBC becomes known as a place where reining MVPs go to get injured.

As I wrote a week ago, I want it to happen in November, after the season's over. It would push back the Winter Leagues a couple weeks, but at that point in the year you could simply hold it as a single-elimination bracket, and get rid of the more time-intensive double-elimination round robin. The top stars from MLB would have their seasons over, and they would have a choice between fishing and playing for their country, rather than a choice between helping their team and playing for their country. They'd also be in playing shape, instead of rusty.

The top stars from Latin America would get a chance to showcase themselves right before the delayed Mexican, Venezuelan, Dominican, and Puerto Rican winter seasons started, building interest in those games -- and, perhaps, leading to greater coverage and interest in this country and other countries in the baseball world.

November has been viewed as unworkable because of the yearly weeklong Japan Series, Japan's World Series, which in 2008 took place between November 1 and November 9; and the Asia Series (formerly known as the Konami Cup) between the champion teams of Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan, which in 2008 took place between November 13 and November 16. I still think it would be possible to work around this, though it might take some creative scheduling. Let's give it a try.

A single-elimination bracket for 16 teams means that there are 4 rounds of matches, as we all know: Round of 16, Quarterfinals, Semifinals, Championship, a total of 15 games in all. In the WBC, the 16 teams are divided into 4 pools. Pool A has always been Asia: China, Taiwan ("Chinese Taipei"), Korea, and Japan; the other 12 teams, including the European teams (Italy and Netherlands) and the British Commonwealth teams (South Africa, Canada, and Australia), have been divided evenly among the other 3 pools. In my sample, I put 4 of the teams with the least number of major leaguers, Italy, Netherlands, South Africa, and Australia, in Pool B.

So here's a sample bracket. Let's assume that you can schedule two first-round matches in one day, or one first-round and one second-round match. You could start on November 3, have Japan play on November 9, which ought to give enough time for the Japan Series to end, and have the Championship game on November 12, just in time for the Asia Series to begin. This way, no conflicts, no guilt, no pitch counts, no mercy rule, and everyone's happy.

Pool A

Pool A

Quarters

Semis

Championship

Nov. 9

 

 

 

Korea

Nov. 10

 

 

Japan

 Korea/Japan

Nov. 11

 

Nov. 7

 

 Pool A champ

 

China

 China/Taiwan

 

 

Taiwan

 

 

Nov. 12

 

 

 

 finalist

Pool B

 

 

 

Nov. 5

 

 

 

Italy

Nov. 7

 

 

Netherlands

 Italy/Neth

 

 

Nov. 6

 

 Pool B champ

 

Australia

 Aus/SA

 

 

South Africa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pool C

 

 

 

Nov. 3

 

 

 

Venezuela

Nov. 5

 

 

USA

 Venez/USA

Nov. 8

 

Nov. 4

 

 Pool C champ

 

Cuba

 Cuba/Mexico

 

 

Mexico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 finalist

Pool D

 

 

 

Nov. 3

 

 

 

Puerto Rico

Nov. 6

 

 

Canada

 PR/Canada

 

 

Nov. 4

 

 Pool D champ

 

Dominican Rep.

 DR/Panama

 

 

Panama

 

 

 

 

Make it happen, Bud.
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