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What we lose in losing the World Baseball Classic

Baseball may be America’s pastime, but other countries have way more fun with it.

2021 World Baseball Classic Qualifier Cancelled Due to Coronavirus and Brazil Team Returns Home Photo by Carol Coelho/Getty Images

It hasn’t been officially announced, but the 2021 World Baseball Classic is likely canceled and it won’t be played until 2023 at the earliest. According to Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes, “Because the event was included in the current collective bargaining agreement, which runs through December 2021, the tournament would have to be renegotiated to feature MLB participation.” The CBA negotiations in 2021 figure to be ugly, and there’s no guarantee there will be an agreement before March 2022. That makes 2023 the next reasonable date.

The WBC is just one of myriad things to be canceled due to concerns of COVID-19. Half of the season is already gone as well as the All-Star game, 35 rounds of the draft, and the minor league season, but this was particularly disappointing. Preliminary rounds were postponed back in March, but the actual tournament wasn’t scheduled to start until 10 months from now. Some of the early rounds were slated in Taiwan where there is, of course, baseball being played right now with fans in attendance.

Organizing the amount of international travel necessary for a 20-nation tournament is going to be tricky, but one would hope that by March it would be a surmountable task. America might be a smoldering ruin by then, but the rest of the world will hopefully be back to normal.

If the WBC can’t survive, it heaps additional doubt onto the already crushing mountain of doubt that the 2020 season can be played safely and ethically. MLB believes it will have enough tests to ensure player safety. The plan is to have The Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory produce tests which they say will create a surplus for the general public.

Craig Calcaterra brought up a good point on Twitter: If this lab can create 9,000+ tests per week, why should they go to baseball players and not front line workers? Testing is ramping up around the country, but it’s still not enough. Between May 6 and 12, the US averaged just 299,086 daily tests which is only 59.8 percent of the minimum 500,000 recommended tests performed.

Maybe the WBC is just a victim of triage. A source told Rojas the tournament “is not a priority right now.” No attention can be spared when the league is scrambling to get a 2020 season going.

I suspect the main reason the tournament isn’t going forward is that it won’t turn a profit. Even if it’s safe enough to play baseball in March, it might be some time before a stadium can be packed full of people. The 2017 WBC was a financial success, but the same couldn’t be said if the gate was removed. The tournament can’t stay in the black on advertising and merchandise alone.

In light of the revenue sharing plan leaking this week, it’s clear the owners would rather not be played than have to pay the players even half their salary. No way are they going to throw their support behind a tournament whose main purpose is to grow the game. The $100 million the WBC generated in revenue last time out is nice, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what MLB generates annually.

It’s a real shame because the WBC is a reminder that baseball might be America’s pastime, but other countries have way more fun with it.

Going to an MLB game feels anachronistic and not in a good way. Stadiums are filled with modern advancements—monolithic scoreboards, synced audio broadcasts, churros that are also hot dogs—but the atmosphere remains stiflingly Puritanical. Bat flips are met with dudes sporting Johnny Unitas haircuts jawing about respecting the game. Cheering is permissible but only in sanctioned situations. Excitement is choreographed. Even the existence of the seventh inning stretch supposes fans have been sitting for two-thirds of the game.

Compare that to the atmosphere at the Tokyo Dome where the Japanese fans sang unique songs for each individual player. Or to the match between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic when there was a group of DR fans marching through the aisles blaring horns and banging on drums and the players reacted to every out or base hit as if it were a series clinching moment. We all remember Javier Báez’s no-look tag, but the Báez moment I remember is him taking the ball after the final out of an inning and hurling it into the third deck on accident because he was so excited.

The World Baseball Classic isn’t just more baseball. It’s a reminder that baseball and joy can co-exist simultaneously. No one has to act like they’ve been there before. You only get one life. Why would you want to spend it pretending like you’ve done it all already?

Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.