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New York Mets pitcher Edwin Diaz tore his patellar tendon in his right knee during a celebration with his teammates following team Puerto Rico’s 5-2 win over the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Within minutes, before the extent of the injury was even revealed, many people took to social media to voice their displeasure with what happened. Included in this crowd were two pundits who called for this “fake world series” or “meaningless exhibition series” to be brought to an end. My question is: why?
Yes, players like Diaz, as well past players like Drew Smyly, Miguel Cabrera and Martin Prado have suffered injuries during the event and missed significant time. It’s also true that there are players who haven’t played well or got off to slow starts because of their involvement in the event. These are two things that a quick Google search will not only verify, but more than likely will give you more information on other players who possibly got hurt during the tournament.
The only hang up to bringing it to an end is the damage it would do to the game. Not only in terms of it’s talent, but in terms of it’s financials.
On March 10, a single game between South Korea and Japan drew 62.3 million viewers. That’s 9 million more than the most watched World Series game ever (53 million in 1980 where the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Kansas City Royals). That’s also a higher viewership than this past year’s NBA Finals, as well as the NHL Finals.
When you have that many eyes on your sport, you have to take advantage of it. Not just because financially it would do gangbusters, but because this is their chance to grow the game. Think about the Olympics for basketball and hockey or the World Cup in soccer: they draw good television numbers, but it helps spread familiarity with the game. It’s welcoming to anyone and everyone who wants to be involved. While baseball can be a little bit of a pricier sport to play, if you can get younger people interested in the game and show that anyone can play it, then you’ve ensured a longer lifespan for the sport.
Speaking of the Olympic and World Cup, let’s also ask the question: where is the backlash for injuries there?
Stars like Chris Paul, David Robinson, Carlos Boozer and Paul George are just some of the names that have suffered injuries in practice or games for the Olympics. There’s also a history of international soccer stars who suffered injuries were forced to miss time for their respective leagues because of it. Yet there’s no massive outcry for either. The NHL this past Olympics didn’t allow its players to compete because of the COVID pandemic, but it still receives less flack despite the violent nature of the game.
In the case of hockey and soccer, these events sometimes happen mid-season, while basketball is in the summer. All of this is voluntary, similar to the World Baseball Classic. So how do they get a pass but baseball doesn’t?
In all of these situations, players are willing to put their body on the line to represent their own country. Even one of Diaz’s teammates spoke on it.
“I understand how Mets fans are hurting,” said New York shortstop Francisco Lindor. “But while for so many people the regular season is what counts, playing in the WBC means just as much to all of us. It is the dream of every Puerto Rican ballplayer to wear Puerto Rico’s colors and to represent our country. And not only Puerto Ricans, but every player in the WBC considers being here the ultimate honor.
Fans may not get it, strictly because they view their favorite major league team as being the pinnacle, and to some athletes, that’s the case. Anyone that plays a sport wants to represent their team in the championship, and if you’re not, then you may be playing for the wrong reasons.
The same can be applied here. Puerto Ricans, as well as many other countries and societies have pride in where they were born and raised. If you have the ability to represent your country, and potentially bring more eyes to the sport in the process, why wouldn’t you? Until they allow current professional players in the Olympics (was revived for the 2020 Olympics, however rules state that players on a team’s 40-man roster can not compete), then this is the closest and probably the most publicized that they can get.
It’s a horrible thing that happened to Diaz, something that this writer, nor any of his fellow writers would wish on anyone. However, to call for the end of the World Baseball Classic or to pull any Major League names is an argument that shouldn’t be made. Let them represent their country. Let the game grow.