What the heck is going on around here?
Is it too much money, too much marketing, too much Nike? Is it too little passion, too few fundamentals, too little heart and pride and nationalism?
The World Baseball Classic may not be the Olympic Games, but it doesn't lessen the shock that the United States baseball team was eliminated Thursday – courtesy of a 2-1 loss to Mexico – before the semifinals ever occurred. Team USA finished the second round of the WBC with a 1-2 record in pool play and the lone victory came, in part, because of an umpire's horrible call against Japan.
This comes on the heels of the U.S. basketball team winning bronze at the 2004 Athens Games and the U.S. hockey team finishing a deplorable 1-4-1 last month in Turin, Italy.
Two of those sports – baseball and basketball – were invented by Americans. All three have the world's major professional league based here. In all three, we were able to send the very best the United States has to offer – our top professionals. In baseball and basketball, we should be overwhelming favorites to win it all.
And all we got was one stinkin' bronze?
This can't be a coincidence. This has to signify something bigger, something deeper, something that is a warning sign about exactly the kind of athletes we are raising.
Seriously, something is going on here.
Unless we figure out a way to have international competitions in NASCAR, reality television and Senate fundraising scandals, we may never win anything ever again.
We aren't one of the top four baseball countries in the world? Unfathomable.
Sure, the Dominican Republic – a country we out-populate by a mere 291 million – is better than us no matter what we think, but we aren't even going to make them earn it. We went out like a fat and sassy high seed in the NCAA tournament, whacked between the eyes by some plucky little school.
Yes, our roster could have been stronger, what with some of our million-dollar babies sitting out to concentrate on other things. But this was no slouch team. It was certainly comparatively better than our Olympic basketball team.
We had 30 stars. Derek Jeter, Derek Lee, Dontrelle Willis, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez … wait, whose idea was it to let Alex Rodriguez play for us, anyway? What, Peyton Manning wasn't available? And who the heck talked A-Rod out of playing for the Dominicans and cursing their chances?
Maybe we should have drafted Derek from "Real World/Road Rules Challenge." At least on "The Gauntlet 2," that guy scraps and never quits.
All I know is that in the real world of competition, it is guys like that – unheralded, hungry athletes – who are kicking our rear ends.
In Athens, it was anonymous point guards schooling Stephon Marbury. In hockey, it was minor-league Latvians shutting down Mike Modano. In baseball, it was South Korea, with just one major leaguer, whipping our billion-dollar team. We needed a horrible umpire decision to beat Japan, and in true NAFTA fashion, Canada kicked our butts before Mexico finished us off.
Maybe our national pastime has passed us by. Maybe it is all passing us by.
If there is one common denominator between the three sports, it is the shock on all the players' and coaches' faces. Each time, it seemed that the Americans entered the competition expecting a coronation, not a competition. They thought they knew how hard you have to play, only to find out they didn't know a thing.
Nothing is given to you in international competition, and few of our guys have figured that out.
You can't get traded from Team USA (although you can choose to not show up as many pros have). You can't bitch to your agent about playing time (although some pout on the bench). You can't fall back on a marketing deal (although it was sour-puss Modano, who complained it was too hard for him to arrange his family's flights to the Olympics, on those McDonald's bags, a supposed model Olympian).
The attitudes have been bad, the teamwork undetectable and the urgency almost nonexistent. Although I'll hand it to men's basketball; the players played their hearts out to win bronze. It was Larry Brown, the coach, who boasted the most selfish, silly attitude on the club. So don't just blame this on the athletes.
And nothing against the rest of the world, which is beating us fair and square at our own games. Obviously, we haven't cornered the market on talent. We certainly haven't on heart. But that doesn't mean this repetitive nightmare of failure can be ignored.
In three different sports, in three different competitions, the USA sent all professionals and got humiliated anyway.
Baseball, awful. Hockey, painful. Basketball – well, at least they won the mighty bronze.
Here's hoping Abner Doubleday and James Naismith were busy watching "The Gauntlet 2" and didn't notice. They deserve to rest in peace.