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Without the best players, World Baseball Classic just an exhibition

Photo: /AP

R.A. Dickey is one of the few big names on a U.S. team in the World Baseball Classic that lacks stars.

They held a World Golf Championship event in Miami this weekend. Donald Trump hosted it, at the Trump Doral Trump National Trump Course he recently purchased and plans to redesign by moving some tees back, replacing the sand traps with diamonds and remodeling all the greens so they are shaped like his head.

Anyway, Tiger Woods won this World Golf Championship. But nobody thinks this makes him the world golf champion. A few weeks ago, Matt Kuchar won another World Golf Championship event, the match play. But nobody calls Kuchar the world's match-play golf champion. He is just the golfer who won an event with that name. I assume he makes this distinction at dinner parties.

And this is the problem with the World Baseball Classic. It decides nothing.

I'm sure it's a fun event. I'm sure it means a lot to the players. I believe my colleagues who say the atmosphere is electric. I'll take their word for it, because I'm not watching.

An international event needs to have the best players on every team, or most of them, and it has to matter intensely to those players. Otherwise it's not a championship. It's an exhibition. It's a marketing opportunity.

I have nothing against exhibitions. Or marketing opportunities. If I ran Major League Baseball, I'd stage the World Baseball Classic too, though first I would cut the regular season to 154 games, make both leagues play under one set of rules and do something stupid that I could blame on Bobby Valentine. The World Baseball Classic is a way to "grow the game," so hey, keep growing it.

But this is the USA pitching staff in the World Baseball Classic:

Jeremy Affeldt

Heath Bell

Mitchell Boggs

Steve Cishek

Tim Collins

Ross Detwiler

R.A. Dickey

Gio Gonzalez

Luke Gregorson

David Hernandez

Derek Holland

Craig Kimbrel

Glen Perkins

Vinnie Pestano

Ryan Vogelsong

There are some very good pitchers on that list -- even casual fans know Dickey, Gonzalez and Vogelsong. But there is no Clayton Kershaw, no Justin Verlander, no David Price, no Matt Cain. It is so far from the best American pitching staff you could put together that we don't even need to discuss it further. Anybody can see that, and of course that has an enormous impact on who wins the thing. There is a reason Verlander is gunning for a $200 million contract and Detwiler is not.

I don't fault those guys. They absolutely should skip the WBC. In an era when we are so worried about workloads that the Washington Nationals shut down a healthy young ace in the middle of a pennant race, guys like Kershaw would be foolish to throw meaningful pitches right now. They need to be ready from April to October, not in early March.

They can't risk their careers for an exhibition.

And as long as they don't pitch, it is an exhibition.

The World Baseball Classic does not determine which country has the best team in the world. It doesn't even determine which country has the best players in Florida right now.

Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips said, "It would have been embarrassing" to lose to whoever the U.S. played and not advance to whatever the next round is called. I understand. He feels like he is representing his country. He cares. That's great.

But I would not have been embarrassed. I don't know any American who would have been embarrassed. Even if you care madly about the concept of baseball as America's game, you can't pretend Luke Gregorson is David Price. To the average sports fan, this is like somebody got bored in spring training and decided to play a pickup game to mix things up.

I don't see how that will ever change. Executives can't move the WBC to a better time of year, because there is no better time. They can't hold it every year because star participation would go down, not up. And they can't get pitchers to change their minds, unless they come up with a way to make pitchers really stupid.

So, enjoy the WBC, fellas. I'm sure it's cool to be a part of it, and go ahead and market your bad selves. I'll see you when baseball season starts.

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