The first pitch of the 2013 World Baseball Classic is less than a month away, and with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) holding firm on their vote to keep baseball out of the games through 2016, it may be a long time before the fans can make a decision on which is more important. The IOC is clear on its anti-doping policies and the recent string of P.E.D. use accusations will not aid in the push to have baseball revived as an Olympic sport. They have also expressed concerns for the fan base that baseball will draw, but that seems to be a secondary excuse to back up the original vote. The MLB has already started to take steps to improve the multi-national appeal of the game, for example by proposing to allow translators on the pitchers mound. The IBAF has made statements that they would consider putting together a proposal to petition for baseballs reinstatement in 2020, but the enthusiasm seems tepid at best.
The question I pose is whether or not the WBC can produce the same level of pride for the sport that it would have on the Olympic level? International competition outside of the Olympics has certainly worked for other sports, most notably the World Cup. Many soccer fans actually agree that winning the World Cup means more than winning the Olympic gold. Baseball would most likely share the same format for team selection, where athletes will pull double duty playing for both competitions. This would keep continuity within the teams and most likely elevate the level of play, but also increased practice loads for the players during the MLB offseason. The WBC is also set to occur every four years, which means 2017 and again in 2021, just one year removed from the proposed Olympic revival. This could lead to a down grade in the quality of play in the league due to injuries and fatigue, but only time can determine if that will be the case.
I do not think that fans are ready to sacrifice the quality of regular season play in pursuit of an Olympic medal, and if there are lingering effects from injury after this year’s WBC it will be a difficult sell to players and an even harder sell to owners who will be shelling out big bucks to players who are sitting the bench. I also think that most people will agree that baseball does not reach as many people and into as many countries as soccer, so hoping the WBC could ever elevate to the level of the World Cup might just be grasping at straws. The Olympics are the tried and tested stage for national pride and baseball belongs there, the WBC is a great temporary outlet but I just do not see it having the drawing power to achieve being much more than a stop gap.