In true March madness fashion, the opening week of the World Baseball Classic generated a few scintillating upsets: The Netherlands knocked off South Korea and Cuba to reach the semifinals this week, and Italy—bravo!—advanced out of its pool ahead of favorites Canada and Mexico. Now we just need one change: move the second round, the semifinals and the finals (which will be played in San Francisco from March 17--19) to July.
This is an article from the March 18, 2013 issue
Every four years, baseball should expand the four-day All-Star break to nine so that the WBC can take center stage. The greatest problem for the tournament—which generates big television ratings in other nations but is largely met with a yawn here—is its timing. Getting all of the game's best players to participate has been a challenge. Some U.S. stars prefer to stay in spring training to prepare for their day jobs, while top players for foreign countries, particularly younger ones, stay in camp to fight for roster spots rather than lose ground by joining their national teams. While you'd still have that issue for the first round, by moving the rest of the event to the summer, you'd get a greater buy-in from players who wouldn't have to disrupt their spring routines to represent their countries.
The WBC also suffers from the need to restrict pitcher workloads in March. Pitchers are limited to 65 pitches per game in the first round, 80 in the second round and 95 in the championship round, which adds to the exhibition feel of the event and puts countries that lack the U.S.'s pitching depth at a disadvantage. Hold the event in July, and there would be no need to cap great starting pitchers at 65 or 80 tosses.
A move to July would also put the WBC on a stage by itself, at a relatively quiet time on the sports calendar: pre-NFL training camps, post--NBA and NHL playoffs. The shift wouldn't be easy; it would require coordination with global leagues, and a year in which the U.S. didn't advance to the final eight—they nearly missed last week—would present a marketing challenge. Major league teams would have to make up the dates by playing a handful of doubleheaders, but sacrificing two or three home dates every four years is a small price. It's too late for this year, of course, but a 2017 World Baseball Classic that takes center stage at baseball's midseason would elevate the event on and off the field.