OK, so we've established that Monday night's WBC final between Japan and Korea was an all-timer.
Or, if you're a cynic, at least a tasty appetizer for the baseball season ahead.
But as our man Yahoo! Sports' Tim Brown notes, the tournament is far from being perfect and the WBC has a few areas which it can strengthen for its approach for next time.
So let's get down to which improvements we'd make for the next go-round, which won't take place until 2013.
(You know, because that's what we Americans do. We offer ways to fix things, even if no one ever told us they were broken.)
Big League Stew's 10 ways to improve the World Baseball Classic
10. Award a site to Korea — They may not have won the tournament, but both the Korean team and fans have definitely shown they're world caliber over the past two WBCs. What better way to reward their commitment to the tournament than a showcase spot for Seoul the next time we play? While we're at it, the WBC should step outside of its site comfort zone — San Juan, Tokyo, Florida and California — and get imaginative with its sites. Seattle and Milwaukee? Sure, because their retractable roofs will ensure that fans in the North will get a bit of early baseball action. The Dominican Republic or the Netherlands? The stadiums and crowds may be smaller, but why not? Here's a diplomatic nightmare: how 'bout Havana as a site?
9. Cut the field to 12 teams — The WBC obviously strives to be as inclusive as possible, but the field is just too thin at its current 16-team configuration. Unless China, Chinese Tapei, Italy and Australia can get to the point where they can seriously challenge the bigger boys, make them sit the next one out and watch 11 countries that are most serious about baseball (plus the Dutch, we love the Dutch!) battle it out in a streamlined competition.
8. Think about eliminating pool play — The fact that Korea and Japan had already played four previous times in the 2009 WBC didn't really rob Monday of anything, but the pool play system still doesn't do much for us. The only drama it really produces comes during the elimination games, which are few and far between, and it seems the casual fan is still unsure over how it works. In its place, might we suggest a best-of-three or -five playoff series to determine who advances to the next round? If we're doing the 12-team format, the top four teams ranked by the IBAF would receive first-round byes — perhaps that'd give more Major Leaguers time to prepare in spring training — and we'd have a setup that produces logical storylines that all baseball fans already understand. We'd also be getting rid of the most common complaint from participating players — that there's simply too much down time.
7. Mix up the first round — The quest for balance most likely dictates the current setup of keeping the pools along geographical lines, but why not shake things up and make sure Asian teams are facing Western Hemisphere teams from the get-go? The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico never came close to facing Japan or Korea this tournament, but wouldn't it have been fun to see either Asian team challenged before the second round of pool play?
6. Play both semifinals on one day — But only if we're keeping the same one-game format, of course. Last I checked, it was working pretty well for the NCAA basketball tournaments and you'd have a stadium full of four different nationalities and cultures, making for a colorful crowd.
5. Provide player incentives for participating — No matter how much the '06 or '09 alums sell the experience to their teammates, the American team is always going to have trouble prying players from the teams that are playing them millions of dollars. So there's an easy solution, right? Well, no, we're not advocating that players receive paychecks for their participation, because that'd be against the WBC's supposed "spirit," right?
But why not get a bit draconian and strongly suggest that not participating in the tournament (if asked) might earn a major leaguer a knock on the door from Uncle Sam's tax-collecting brother? Nothing puts a boot in the butt quite like the threat of a guaranteed audit of five years of unreported card show income, right?
4. Start the games earlier — We don't wish the position of WBC scheduler on anybody, especially when they're trying to guarantee that seats are full onsite and attempting to keep the Asian television networks, which are pulling large ratings, happy. But how many people in the East and Midwest didn't even bother tuning into Monday night's game, knowing that there'd be no way to stay up to see the outcome. (Ichiro's game-winning single came after midnight in New York). We're not saying it's going to be easy, but it's worth looking into.
3. Start the roster selection process earlier — Part of what made the 2008 U.S. Olympic basketball team so much fun to follow was the fact that the creation of its roster became an interesting public debate. Basketball fans debated and argued over the lineup that would put Team USA in the best position to reclaim the glory and the gold.
That sort of forum, though, hasn't yet really happened with the WBC. Part of that can be blamed on the dozens of American players who don't express interest, but we also place blame on the fact that provisional team rosters weren't due until mid-January. So why not start the process right after the season, which would allow the public a lot more time to get familiar with the components of each team and start a lot more debates to build interest?
Now that the U.S. is 0-for-2, we get the feeling we might start to see a little more of this.
2. Lower ticket prices — Though WBC organizers were crowing about Monday's one-game record of 54K+ fans and a collective attendance of just over 800,000, the fact remains that there were just too many empty seats in Toronto, Miami and San Diego. You can't really blame the locals, either, considering that many lower-level tickets were priced at $50 and above, far beyond what major league teams in those cities charge for similar seats.
So here's what WBC organizers need to understand: In the wake of games like Japan-Korea in Los Angeles and United States-Canada in Toronto, there's no better advertisement for their tournament than packed stadiums with enthusiastic crowds, but price gouging customers at the box office isn't going to help grow the WBC at all. Officials need to take any and all measures to make sure that the stadiums are more than half full for each game — even if that means pulling stray cats and dogs from the local shelter and handing them each a tiny flag with their free tickets. (The more we think about that idea, the more we like it.)
1. Bar the U.S. from competing — With all the bellyaching and pooh-poohing we do during the three weeks of the WBC — and then trying to "improve things" after it — who needs us? OK, so we're just kidding on this one.
(Well, sort of.)
What improvements to the WBC would you make?