Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Growing Global Sport

by Scott Silversten

When the United States first sent a "Dream Team" of men's basketball players to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the goal of the National Basketball Association was to grow the sport internationally. And you know worked! Just 12 years later in Athens, the U.S. was no longer the dominant team.

And guess what happened? People called the Americans an embarrassment! It was a ridiculous notion, considering that the development of the game worldwide had been the desired intention of putting together that team. People should have stood up and applauded what the NBA had accomplished.

Of course, things never change. Now we hear that the U.S. is again embarrassing itself in a sport it "invented" with its poor showing in the World Baseball Classic. The real embarrassment is that most fans and media members are failing to realize that several of these other nations have for a long time produced quality baseball players. Latin American nations have been churning out quality major leaguers for the last half century, and Japan didn't decide to take up the sport upon Ichiro's arrival in Seattle.

Now granted, the star-studded U.S. team has not performed very well. It barely swung the bats in a 2-0 victory over Mexico, got blown out by Canada, beat Japan on a controversial call – actually, a bad call – and lost to South Korea in a fairly uncompetitive contest.

While it's true the U.S. dominated South Africa to survive the opening round, it's also true that one 17-year-old member of the South Africa squad was so green, he wondered if his acne medication might inadvertently cause a positive steroid test. And here we thought there was nowhere else for the steroid story to go?

Anyway, back to the U.S. team. Yes, this is a team that has been more talented than its opponents thus far – could that be said of possible championship game matchups with Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic? – but it's not like the other teams are makeshift squads. These are pro baseball players, just from different countries, and in no way do they resemble the teams that took the floor for other countries in the 1992 basketball tournament.

And let's not's baseball! The U.S. has played five games in the WBC. That is just about 3% of a Major League Baseball season. If anybody judged a team based on five games, writers would be declaring teams out of the pennant race on April 8. (NOTE: This is NOT the place to insert Pirates or Marlins jokes.)

Johnny Damon is "slumping" in the WBC, according to most scribes. Slumping? He's 1-for-7! If he had one more hit in those seven at-bats, he would be batting .285, which is essentially his career average. Dontrelle Willis has struggled on the mound, but it's only mid-March. The Japanese and South Korea players were basically done with their spring trainings before they started WBC play, meaning that, in theory, they were all ready for real games.

And yes, baseball is America's game. But so is basketball. Let's face it, other countries have good athletes...unless we're talking about snowboarding. In that case, the U.S. clearly dominates world competition - though the sport, primarily an American creation, has been around for as long as it has taken me to type this sentence.

It's well past time for everyone to realize that the U.S. is not a clear favorite in these international events. And that fact makes the tournaments even more intriguing. Softball has been dropped from the Olympic slate after 2008 because people tired of watching the U.S. roll to easy victories. The fact that the U.S. was upset by Sweden last month just might have saved women’s hockey from being eliminated as well.

Let's face it...for the WBC semifinals to get any decent coverage in this country, it's imperative that the U.S. reach Saturday’s game in San Diego. However, the U.S.'s appearance is not necessary to crown a true world champion, because we no longer are the kings of sport...snowboarding notwithstanding.

Scott Silversten's column appears every Thursday


Blogger j-bird said...

for me, it is not about the U.S. it is really all about Pujols. Go DR!

Thursday, March 16, 2006  

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"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
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