The World Baseball Classic has not risen to the level of the Soccer World Cup, but it is quickly building into a fairly respectable tournament every four years. It has the potential to grow the game of baseball into countries where it has not previously had great popularity. The 2013 edition is the third installment of the tournament, which has grown since the tournament began in 2006. Japan has won the first two tournaments with Japanese Starting Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka winning the Most Valuable Player award in each tournament. Although Japan has dominated, the WBC is expanding baseball into new countries which is better for the sport in the long term.
The first two WBC tournaments in 2006 and the 2009 featured 16 teams: China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, the United States, Cuba, the Netherlands, Panama, Puerto Rico, Australia, Dominican Republic, Italy, Venezuela. Only four of the teams could be considered non-traditional baseball countries: China, South Africa, the Netherlands, and Italy. Looking at the rosters of the Netherlands and Italy reduces the number to two. The Netherlands has been made up of largely players born in Dutch territories in the Caribbean. The Italian team has been comprised largely of American born players with Italian ancestries. South Africa has a baseball heritage, although it is not overly long, nor has it produced any players in Major League Baseball. Nevertheless, South Africa is a rising baseball power, but with competition in Africa is lagging behind, South Africa will have a difficult time with player development. China is a developing baseball nation, and does not have the history and strength of Japan or South Korea, but its continued participation in the WBC will build its foundation for future success in international baseball.
The third WBC has shown the growth which baseball has enjoyed in only seven years. Twelve teams automatically qualified for the 16 spots in the WBC: Japan, China, Cuba, South Korea, the Netherlands, Australia, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, the United States, Mexico, and Italy. The remaining four spots were filled via qualifying. The four open spots were contested by 16 teams with Spain, Canada, Brazil, and Chinese Taipei winning their qualifying tournaments. The twelve countries which did not qualify: France, Israel, South Africa, Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, New Zealand, Philippines, and Thailand generally do not have a long history with baseball. While many of these countries are just opening up to baseball, few can argue that it is not a good omen for baseball’s future to have so many countries trying to qualify for the WBC. The competition may not seem world class across the board, but this will come with time.
In 2005, the International Olympic Committee voted to remove baseball and softball from the Summer Olympic program following the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The reasoning for the removal from the Olympic program was due to a lack of viable competition across a large number of countries. While this is fairly true due to the East Asian and North American dominance of the sport, the IOC should look at other sports which have been dominated by singular regions of the world in Olympic competition. Table tennis and badminton, in this regard, reflect baseball and softball, yet they were not removed from the Summer Olympic games.
The reinstatement of baseball and softball, the two sports are working to join bids, to the Summer Olympics may largely depend on the ability of the WBC to attract interest from countries which had not previously been baseball nations. Elevating South Africa should will elevating other African national baseball teams. Germany, France, and Great Britain can have a similar influence on the development of European baseball. It may take several years for a healthy, widespread, and competitive international baseball environment to grow along with the WBC, the IOC will have only one logical choice, the reinstatement of baseball and softball to the Summer Olympics thanks to its global appeal.