Ideally, the Texas Rangers third baseman would have failed these physical hurdles and his strained calf would have healed a little slower to prevent him from playing in this created-for-cash tournament that no one in this country will watch.
“To be honest, I am not going to go out of my way to watch it,” Rangers first baseman Mike Napoli told me. “Now if it’s on and a teammate is in it, I’ll take an interest.”
Napoli was not hired as the marketing director for the WBC.
Nonetheless, the seduction of pride for his country has Beltre playing in the fourth WBC, which starts this week. The Rangers can’t say it because he’s Adrian Beltre, but his playing in this tournament is a terrible idea.
In April 2016, Adrian Beltre signed a two-year, $36 million extension.
The only way the Rangers can be the best version of themselves is with Beltre at third base. His style of play is a risk that is not worth taking unless it’s for his big league club.
The American sporting public has decided it doesn’t care about the WBC, the MLB clubs hate it, and the Texas Rangers put on their brave face and said, “Go get ’em!” for their players who want to do it.
“If they want me to play, I’ll play,” Beltre said Monday morning. “I’m comfortable with the decision now. There’s no discomfort and no setback.”
If Beltre were under 30, it would not be that big of a deal. But he is about to turn 38 and despite his insistence on playing through whatever normal ailments occur in a 162-game season, this tournament just makes him more susceptible to another pull, strain or sprain.
In six seasons with the Texas Rangers, Adrian Beltre is batting .308 with 167 home runs and 563 RBIs.
Can you envision a scenario of Beltre mailing it in any game just to prevent injury? No. With Beltre we routinely hold our collective breath every time he runs out a grounder, fearing that his hamstring is going to pop.
But he wants to do this, and this is his call.
It’s no different than Mavs owner Mark Cuban openly displaying his disdain for NBA players participating in the Olympics. Yet he routinely gave Dirk Nowitzki his blessing to participate for Team Germany in international competition. (Of course, Dirk could say he’s a Donald Trump supporter and Cuban would celebrate that, too.)
Both the Rangers and their fans can only hope nothing happens when Beltre starts playing for the Dominican.
The WBC was the creation of former baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who wanted for baseball what basketball, soccer and hockey all enjoy — an international tournament to spread the game. And to make a bunch of money.
It’s a wonderful concept that in practice has no good time on baseball’s calendar, and guys such as Beltre should not be guilted into playing.
Holding up the World Baseball Classic’s trophy, whatever that is, is nothing like winning a World Cup. That event has been around since 1930 and remains the sport’s pinnacle. Players grew up watching soccer’s World Cup, and all clubs and leagues accept the risks of the event that is held every four years.
In the U.S., where the semifinals and championship game are held, we simply don’t care about the WBC.
Try fourth, back in 2009.
Can you name the 16 nations participating in this event? Israel upset South Korea in the first round — did you know Israel had a baseball team?
Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos, who is expected to play for Venezuela, said the tournament is a point of interest in his home country; members of the media I spoke with who have covered the games in the Caribbean and Mexico said the games are well attended.
But if this event meant something to Americans, all of our best players would be playing. It’s telling and unflattering when Angels outfielder Mike Trout says no.
“For me, spring training is all about trying to come together as a team,” Napoli said. “The timing of it is just not great.”
Forget the timing, baseball’s obsession with pitch-counts prevents national teams from playing players the way they should in a game.
The realities of the sport simply do not lend itself to a true international competition like soccer’s World Cup. That was the ground floor of the sport, before the money grew insane for the players in their professional leagues.
That competition is ingrained in the culture and fabric of the sport, and there is a good time for it.
Cuban may not like it, but the Olympics is a good time for an international basketball competition. The World Cup of Hockey may have bombed, but there is a time for it.
Baseball has no such time, and the whole event feels contrived and more like a cash grab than a true international competition.
Mike Trout is skipping it for a reason, and it’s the same reason Adrian Beltre should, too.