WBC Five Cuts: USA vs. Japan
Victorino noticed how even during pitching changes in the middle of an inning, the Asian teams will take infield practice. "We stand around and talk to each other," Victorino said.
Look at pregame practices. The Japanese run the baseball equivalent of a precise three-ring circus, with players taking groundballs and flyballs all over the yard at game speed. The Americans take a half-speed approach, and you'll almost never catch them taking pregame infield and outfield practice as a team.
Yes, baseball is the American pastime, but the United States once invented and popularized the automobile, too. Look at Detroit today and tell me it's still doing the car business better than Asia. Reputation alone is not a winning business model.
It's not that the American players cared less. That's the sloppy way of trying to explain away how this team of $160 million worth of ballplayers didn't make it to the final. They cared as much as Japan.
The problem is the lack of urgency and the attention to detail, especially in a short-form tournament when no game, no inning, can afford to be given away. And that's the true lesson to be learned from the Americans' semifinal knockout. How the team is picked, how the team practices (the USA gets together too late and even the American players grumbled about the lack of work) and how the games are managed need some serious work. The players care. The system and the management failed them.
"I still thought he was throwing good enough to stay in the ballgame," Johnson said.
Huh? The inning began like this: single, single, error on a smash that should have been a single, sacrifice fly. Now Japan led, 3-2, with a runner on first, one out and three straight lefthanded hitters due up. Johnson had a 13-man pitching staff with three lefthanders in his bullpen. And not only did he not bring a lefty in the game, he had no one even warming up.
"I tried to get Grabow up," Johnson said, adding that Grabow had some tightness in his groin that caused him to need more time. "It was my fault," Johnson said. "It took him longer in the cool weather to get loose."
The greatest strength of the USA team was supposed to be the depth of the bullpen, which could match up lefties and righties against hitters better than any other team in the tournament. And yet, the USA essentially went home without going to its strength.
The lesson is the United States needs a manager and a general manager -- GM
• Johnson let left-handed hitters
• Johnson did pinch hit for Granderson in the eighth with one out and the score 6-4. But he managed to mess that situation up, too. It was then that he sent up Longoria to hit -- against a right-hander. Wait. It gets worse. Johnson had Victorino ready to hit, but suddenly changed his mind at the last minute.
"I didn't know exactly when I was going to hit," Longoria said. "Then he said, 'You're going up right now!'"
With no warning, without having taken an at-bat in the tournament ("My heart was racing," Longoria said), and having to face a righthander after two openings passed against a lefthander, Longoria struck out.
Incredibly, Johnson said he was looking for a home run -- the wind was howling from left to right; no ball that wasn't launched from a cannon was going out to left field -- and -- if you can follow this -- that Victorino would have batted with two runners on but that Longoria was his man with one man on.
• To keep the game at 6-4, Johnson did not give the eighth inning to
On the heels of finger-pointing from the steroid era (including the possible tipping of players by the union) and the union considering a collusion grievance over the tepid free agent market, the owners and players can't even agree on what the players want out of this grievance. The union seeks not only to ban charitable donations from player contracts, but also seeks "relief" to "make ... whole" the 109 or so players who already have existing such clauses in their contracts.
Specifically, the union wrote in its grievance, "Accordingly, the Panel should declare the Clubs' conduct unlawful, should award such relief as is necessary to make each affected Player whole, and should award such other relief as is appropriate."
Major league officials interpreted such "make-whole relief" as monetary -- that is, the repayment by clubs to players for monies already donated. A union official, however, said the "relief" may or may not include repayment, that the larger purpose was to plant "a stake in the ground" when it comes to opposing the growing practice of writing charitable provisions into contracts.
The grievance lists 22 teams the union considers in violation of the Basic Agreement, including the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team the union claims is also in violation by using payroll deductions to fulfill the charitable donations. The Basic Agreement allows special covenants only if they provide the player's contract with added value. The union's position is that the charitable provisions are unenforceable and have no value. The club's position is that such donations are two-party agreements that provide clear value to the player in terms of goodwill with the community, as well as tax advantages.
The growing practice of writing charitable contributions into contracts reached a new level -- one that prompted the union into action -- when Dodgers owner
In more cooperative times, the union might have negotiated with MLB officials on trying to downgrade such clauses to voluntary, separate side agreements. Instead, the union took the aggressive position of filing the grievance during the championship round of the WBC. "Why are you picking the finals round of the WBC to drop the bomb?" MLB lead labor lawyer
What's at stake here? According to MLB figures, the total money donated by players through contractual provisions is $5.8 million -- that out of the $3.7 billion paid to players overall, or only 15 hundreths of one percent. Obviously, the stakes are much greater than that as 2012 looms.
"I came to an agreement with the Cubs," Lilly said, referring to his major league team. "I wouldn't want to go back on it."
Braun only learned about the grievance from reporters prior to the WBC semifinal game Sunday. Speaking about donating money back to the community through his club, the Brewers third baseman said, "I think it sets a real good example. I don't have a problem with it."
When asked about the possible repayment of money to him as part of "make-whole relief", Braun said, "This [grievance] does not sound like a real good PR move on behalf of the players, but this is the first I've heard of it. I'll have to find out what's going on."
Wright, the Mets third baseman, said he received an e-mail regarding the grievance but had not yet read it. "I'm not educated enough about it to be able to comment on it," Wright said.