In defense of the World Baseball Classic

World Baseball Classic Pool D: Puerto Rico v Dominican Republic
Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

In the aftermath of a horrible freak injury, takes have been flying everywhere, none of which should impede the joy that is the WBC.

Wednesday night, we had the privilege of enjoying one of the most anticipated World Baseball Classic games to date, a tense matchup between two immensely talented and exciting rosters in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The showdown didn’t disappoint, and it ultimately saw Puerto Rico taking down the D.R., 5-2. The game, however, also ended with a devastating Edwin Díaz injury. It was an injury that was not only a massive bummer for Diaz, his teammates, and fans everywhere, but also one that has given light to some frankly unreasonable takes about the tournament’s purpose and impact.

Díaz hurt himself in in one of the least likely and hardest-to-stomach ways imaginable: amidst a post-win celebration. It was revealed Thursday that the injury was a fully torn patellar tendon in hi s right knee, and that the righty will likely be out for the season. Even before the specifics were known, based on the reactions of him and his teammates (not to mention his brother, reliever Alexis Díaz), it was clearly serious.

We have already seen plenty of tweets and radio hits about the incident and what it means relative to the Classic, the vast majority of which have been entirely unreasonable. There are plenty of discussion points that could stem from the tear-filled ending of Wednesday’s game, but I‘m mostly focusing on the ones that diminish what the WBC means and what it can be.

As a knee-jerk reaction, sure, this obviously sucks for everyone involved. But after watching what we all did in the three hours leading up to the injury, it’s ridiculous to write off the entire thing over what amounts to, in the words of no less than Mookie Betts (alongside Mike Trout), “a freak accident.” The World Baseball Classic is perhaps the best display of the game we all love, and it means a hell of a lot to so many around the world. This is a sentiment I thought our own Esteban Rivera encapsulated well:

If you can’t tell how much these games and this tournament means to the players, then you likely haven’t been watching.

It’s abundantly clear in the passion that everyone involved plays with, and evident in Puerto Rico’s decision to joyously celebrate after their win. And of course, regardless of what anyone on the outside thinks, these guys have a right to pursue their own desires. If this year’s WBC rosters aren’t great evidence of more players wanting in on this event than ever, I don’t know what is. The joy we saw Puerto Rico embodying Wednesday obviously didn’t go as planned, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t deserve the opportunity for that experience in the future either.

Lest we forget, that just a couple of years ago the Mets practiced celebrating in spring training. Thankfully no one got hurt, but imagine if someone did. I’m not even saying this was a bad thing, it’s silly, but it was just people enjoying themselves. That’s almost never a bad thing. And the sentiment we are seeing about the Classic doesn’t arise about exhibition games when players get hurt in spring training, or shagging fly balls when Mariano Rivera tore his ACL. None of these are, or should be, indictments on their causes, just evidence that freak accidents happen.

Also, it shouldn’t be forgotten that baseball is not the sole possession of the United States, or even Major League Baseball itself. This year’s tourney makes it as clear as ever that the game is incredibly important, and that the WBC is something people take great pride in, players and fans alike. Twelve percent of South Korea watched their team play Japan in pool play, while 44 percent of Japan tuned in. For context, 40 percent of the U.S. watched this year’s Super Bowl, probably the biggest event on our TV schedule. These games are important. People are watching them worldwide — and that’s not even factoring in the electric atmosphere created by, say, Shohei Ohtani going yard for Samurai Japan.

On an anecdotal note, I’ve had the privilege of attending one of these meaningful games. Back in 2017, I was able to get to the U.S. and Dominican Republic game in Miami. I wasn’t necessarily actively cheering for the American squad, but as far as someone who wasn’t passionately pushing for the D.R., I was probably outnumbered eight-to-one. Regardless, it was a beautiful and exciting game, and it gathered (at the time) the largest crowd in the history of loanDepot Park. I remember particularly the performance of the Dominican national anthem, and being in a sea of people singing, waving flags, and blaring horns. It was an emotional and beautiful few minutes that I’m grateful to have seen.

Jon Tayler wrote about the similar fun and pride filled environment at Wednesday’s game for FanGraphs as well. All of this stuff is brought about by the WBC, and these experiences are a regular occurrence that so many people enjoy about this tournament.

Is it possible someone could get hurt in this extra handful of high leverage games? Sure, we’ve already seen it with Díaz and, to a much lesser extent, Freddie Freeman. It’s unfortunate, but I’d argue the difference is marginal at best. We’ve already seen about half of the Yankees’ roster go down without the effects of playing in the Classic, and that’s just one team.

The injury Díaz suffered was crushing, and you couldn’t help but feel for him and his teammates, but it’s more a dose of the reality of playing sports (or just living), than it is a condemnation of the World Baseball Classic. He ultimately got hurt in a display of pride and joy with his teammates, a sentiment that the WBC seems to evoke quite frequently. It doesn’t make the ending of Wednesday’s game any less sour, but that kind of pure pride and joy isn’t available on every corner. The World Baseball Classic brings out that beautiful display in people all over the globe, a simple freak accident is no reason to throw that all away.

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