Ichiro at the 2009 WBC (AP)You can now count Ichiro among the big group of Japanese major leaguers who aren't interested in helping defend the country's World Baseball Classic title next spring. The 39-year-old free-agent outfielder confirmed on Monday that he won't be playing for the national team, saying he made up his mind long ago.
"I appreciate being asked to play for Japan again at the WBC," Suzuki said. "But after the second tournament in 2009 I never considered playing in the third event. My feelings have not changed to this day, and it's where things stand."
Japan won the first two World Baseball Classics but will now have to try for a third without Ichiro, Yu Darvish, Hiroki Kuroda, Norichka Aoki and Hisashi Iwakuma. All have already confirmed their plans to abstain when the tournament begins next March.
That's obviously bad news for Japan, but it's also unwelcome for Major League Baseball and the WBC, considering apathy toward the event has apparently spread to one of the countries that really embraced the first two versions. It's unclear if there's any sort of underlying motive for the mass absence, but Japanese players had reportedly been unhappy with the planned revenue split and even threatened a boycott before later agreeing to take part in the WBC. Japan's past practices for the WBC have also been said to be a lot more intense than those for other countries so maybe these major leaguers just decided it wasn't worth the trouble. If you're an aging Ichiro, why waste the limited amount of games left in your body when you've already helped bring home two titles to your country?
American players haven't really started saying whether or not they'll play for the United States in the World Baseball Classic. But if they start following the example set by the Japanese major leaguers, it isn't going to be pretty.