A World Series to circle
Larkin in the dark
Gazette File Photo
WE’LL HAVE A BETTER CHANCE OF WINNING THAN WE DO WITH
THE JAYS. Players like the Jays’ Carlos Delgado and
Roy Halladay would likely relish the opportunity to play
An exciting summer awaits the sports world in 2004. In addition
to the Stanley Cup, the National Basketball Association Championship,
the U.S. Open and the British Open, sports fans anxiously anticipate
the Summer Olympics and the World Cup of Hockey.
Lost in the upcoming frenzy are the boys of summer — baseball
players. America’s beloved pastime faces dwindling attendance
from fans who have yet to forgive Major League Baseball players
for the 1994 strike. Current MLB attendance averages 28,784 visitors
per game — down from the 2001 average of 30,060 fans. What
can the sport do to rejuvenate its disinterested support base?
It appears that Major League Baseball and the National Hockey
League can undoubtedly learn from each other. The lackluster fan
support that has plagued MLB commissioner Bud Selig over the last
decade should serve as a warning to both players and owners in
the NHL — similar post-strike fan retaliation in NHL arenas
would not be surprising should commissioner Gary Bettman fail to
negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.
On the other hand, Selig could benefit from following the example
set by the NHL on the international circuit. Allowing professional
hockey players to participate in Olympic action — along with
other international off-season events such as the 1972 Summit Series,
the Canada Cup and World Cup of Hockey — has created a great
deal of worldwide interest and nations are rallying around their
Applying a similar idea to baseball by allowing professionals
to compete internationally would create a monumental sporting attraction.
Would Selig ever entertain such a thought? He has done just that.
As of late April, Selig and MLB International have been toying
with the idea of a World Cup of Baseball in the spring of 2005.
A World Cup of Baseball, or even the introduction of professional
players to Olympic baseball, would generate a newfound love for
the game. Even more appealing than the sport’s popularity
boost would be the potential wake-up call to the sporting community,
which it has not seen since Russia’s dazzling play that put
international hockey on the map at the 1972 Summit Series.
Make no mistake: an international tournament featuring the best
baseball players each country has to offer would not be a simple
cakewalk for the American team. What many would write off as a
sure victory for the United States would instead be some of the
fiercest competition ever known to a game rooted in rich history.
Skeptics may scoff at the thought of even competition in international
baseball. Who could possibly compete with a rotation boasting hurlers
like Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Tim Hudson, Roy Halladay and Curt
Schilling? A hypothetical United States batting lineup would intimidate
with Mike Piazza as catcher, Todd Helton at first base, Jeff Kent
at second, Scott Rolen at third, Alex Rodriguez at shortstop and
a fearsome outfield of Barry Bonds, Lance Berkman and Gary Sheffield.
Unstoppable? Think again.
The Dominican Republic would prove a potentially even match for
the mighty Americans. A staff anchored by Pedro Martinez would
be supported by a legendary hitting lineup that could include superstars
Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero, Alfonso Soriano,
Miguel Tejada, Adrian Beltre and Luis Castillo, all while relegating
Sammy Sosa to the bench.
Puerto Rico could also manage to hold its own. Joining dynamic
young arms Javier Vazquez and Joel Pineiro would be a group of
seasoned hitters like Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Juan Gonzalez,
Mike Lowell, Jose Vidro and a luxurious choice between Ivan Rodriguez
and Jorge Posada at catcher.
Japan would likely serve as an unpredictable wild card in the
tournament, as only a handful of Far East stars have journeyed
to North America and experienced major league play. The Japanese
could certainly make a splash in the tournament. A plethora of
hidden gems currently playing in Japan could accompany converted
big leaguers Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Kazuhiro Matsui, Hideo
Nomo and Kazuhisa Ishii to create a formidable roster.
Though it may be wishful thinking to imagine a Canadian triumph
in international play, a Canuck squad would field plenty of capable
major leaguers — Eric Gagne, Rich Harden, Larry Walker, Paul
Quantrill and Jeff Zimmerman, to name a few.
The ideas and dream teams listed above represent a vision probably
closer to fantasy than reality. International baseball at the highest
possible level of competition, however, would be a treat to fans
and players around the world alike. Sadly, a plan that could potentially
rescue baseball from its wrongs of the last decade remains but
a twinkle in Selig’s eye.