The announcement of a 2009 WBC all-star squad has again underscored the dominant theme attached to this year’s second edition of the top showcase international tournament. By any conceivable on-field measure, baseball at the highest levels is no longer exclusively or even primarily the special province of Major League Baseball, Inc. Of the eight position players, one designated hitter, and three pitchers tabbed as the best of this year’s event, only four are North American big-leaguers; of that quartet, only one–shortstop Jimmie Rollins–is an American, with the other three MLB selections representing Puerto Rico, Venezuela and champion Japan. Three countries (Korea with 4, Japan with 3, and Cuba with 2) placed multiple selections on the all-star roster, and Cuba–represented by slugging outfielders Frederich Cepeda and Yoennis Céspedes–was the only country not reaching the semifinals to nonetheless be represented by more than a single all-star selection.
2009 WBC All-Star Selections
Catcher: Ivan Rodríguez (Puerto Rico/Houston Astros)
First Base: Tae Kyun Kim (Korea)
Second Base: José López (Venezuela/Seattle Mariners)
Third Base: Bum Ho Lee (Korea)
Shortstop: Jimmie Rollins (USA/Philadelphia Phillies)
Outfielders: Frederich Cepeda (Cuba), Yoennis Céspedes (Cuba), Norichika Aoki (Japan)
Designated Hitter: Hyun Soo Kim (Korea)
Pitchers: Jung Keun Bong (Korea), Hisashi Iwakuma (Japan), Daisuke Matsuzaka (Japan/Boston Red Sox)
MVP: Daisuke Matsuzaka (Japan)
The numbers reflected by the WBC 2009 all-star squad can be broken down in several interesting ways. The listing by countries is as follows: Korea 4, Japan 3, Cuba 2, and one each for Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Team USA. This ten competing countries failed to land a single representative on the elite squad, and all selections–with the exception of the two Cuban outfielders–came from the four semifinalists. Two of the three pitching selections, including the concensus MVP, were precisely the two hurlers who handed Cuba their only two tournament defeats and thus blocked the 2006 sub-champions from returning to the semifinal round. Rollins was something of an ironic choice at the shortstop post since he alternated with Derek Jeter between the infield and DH positions throughout the two week event. And finally, big league stars were represented by only a single pitcher–and then a pitcher who has spent the bulk of his career as an all-star in his own native Japanese league.
One conclusion jumps again to the forefront here. The tournament which was originally designed by MLB management with a prime objective of showcasing celebrity big league stars in an international forum has for a second straight outing accomplished just the opposite. Not only has no team yet reached the finals of this event with more than two big leaguers on its roster–Japan had one in 2006 and two in 2009, Korea one in this year’s finale, and Cuba none back in 2006–but the tournament’s top individual performers have in the main come from outside MLB rosters. WBC edition two underscored once more that some of the world’s best baseball is being played in domestic leagues in Japan, Korea, and Cuba. And the Americans (who claim creation and moral ownership of the “major” professional league that is now nearly half filled with imported Latin American and Asian talent) are in particular notably less and less prepared to compete on an equal footing in the increasingly glamorous arena that is today’s international baseball. Is baseball still truly America’s national game? This year’s star-studded WBC all-star cast would hardly offer any indication that it is.