ANAHEIM, Calif. –
Loosely translated, those characters mean "That is not fair" in Japanese. Based on what transpired in Team USA's 4-3 victory against Japan in the second round of the World Baseball Classic on Sunday afternoon, that's among the most benign things that could be said.
The reversal of a call that would've given Japan the go-ahead run in the eighth inning only lent credence to the thought that tournament organizers are looking for every way possible to ease the United States into the next round.
If anything is going to ruin what has been an otherwise splendid tournament, it's the perception of American favoritism.
In all likelihood, home-plate umpire Bob Davidson, a native of Duluth, Minn., was not thinking about the United States, Japan or any other country when he called Tsuyoshi Nishioka out for tagging up too early. He focused on Nishioka's feet, which he saw leave the base before Randy Winn caught the ball and fired home.
Davidson was wrong. Not by much. Only frame-by-frame replay showed it definitively. In fact, second-base umpire Brian Knight initially called Nishioka safe on the appeal, and Japan led 4-3 momentarily. Team USA manager Buck Martinez stomped out of the dugout and gave a personal plea to Davidson, who reversed the appeal, which sounds like something that should happen in court, not on a baseball field.
No matter the intention, it looked bad.
"It's a pity that it was overruled," Japanese manager Sadaharu Oh said.
What Oh didn't mention was the true pity: the nationalities of the umpires.
Trusting any umpire to make the right call is like trusting the cable guy to be on time, and for WBC organizers to skim over the fact that three of the four umpires in this game are American was ludicrous. Of the 37 umpires available for the tournament, 15 of them are from foreign countries. For the sake of impartiality, there easily could have been an American umpire at one of the corners, a Japanese umpire at the other and two from different countries behind home plate and second base.
Instead, it looked bad. Again.
And this wasn't the first instance in which Team USA resembled the spoiled child. The Americans received top treatment from the Major League Scouting Bureau, according to a Baseball America story, getting detailed reports on all their opponents. Teams like Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic were not aware they could use the bureau's scouts.
All of this dates back to when the tournament was announced. Commissioner Bud Selig, so proud of the WBC, unveiled the brackets. The doozy: As a member of Pool B, the United States could make the finals without playing a single Latin American team.
Not the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, the tournament's favorites. And not Puerto Rico and Cuba, the teams that beat those favorites Sunday.
Bad. Very bad.
It's understandable that Major League Baseball wants to protect its investment, which rests heavily on Team USA's success. The further the Americans go in the tournament, the more interest it draws stateside. The more interest it draws, the greater the chance of the tournament happening again. A WBC in 2009 means more money for baseball, which, really, was the impetus behind the tournament in the first place.
Some of the built-in advantages for Team USA make sense. In order for the first incarnation of the tournament to run smoothly, baseball needed to run the finals in the United States. Hence the home-field advantage, which was certainly apparent on Sunday, even when the fans were booing Alex Rodriguez.
By the end of the afternoon, boos turned to cheers and A-Rod from goat to hero. Yet in the ninth inning, before Rodriguez's game-winning, bases-loaded, two-out-in-the-ninth single, you got a distinct feeling that the bang-bang play at third base involving Vernon Wells would have been overturned had Martinez leaned over the dugout railing and wagged his finger Rafael Palmeiro-style.
He didn't try that, maybe because he didn't have to. As the WBC progresses, it seems more and more that way.
Looking at the quality of the games, the WBC should be classic. It should be
Only on Sunday it wasn't that, and it certainly wasn't classic.
It was, sadly, typical.
- Team USA