By Mike Steffanos
Three years ago I wrote several items critical of the World Baseball Classic for this blog. No matter what spin Selig and the pro-WBC crowd try to put on it, the timing of this in spring is just terrible. No other sport (or Commissioner, for that matter) would risk its top players in a tournament like this when they are getting ready for the season.
I've stayed away from talking about the tournament this year. I know how important it is to fans from other countries and I understand it's not going away anytime soon. I just cross my fingers and hope that none of the 16 players the Mets sent to this overhyped monstrosity get hurt.
Today's news about Oliver Perez drove me over the edge again on this thing. The following from Ben Shpigel of the New York Times summarizes the situation well:
Looking back, the Mets' decision to let Perez play in the W.B.C. does not look like a good one. As supportive as they have been, Perez is the only one among the 16 participants who could have strongly benefited from remaining with the team during spring training, and not just because he is a starting pitcher. They spent $36 million on him during the off-season, and they know he needs hands-on instruction more than anyone else on the staff. When Johan Santana throws in the bullpen, he draws fewer people than the Marlins. When Perez throws, a gaggle of officials, coaches and players is on hand watching.
That is how Perez is wired, that is how he learns. The Mets may not have expected Perez to return out of shape or as behind as he is, but they also had to have known that sending him away for nearly three weeks without supervision certainly wasn't beneficial. Compounding that was the fact that Warthen said their repeated efforts to contact Mexico pitching coach Teddy Higuera were unsuccessful. They had no way of knowing whether Perez was adhering to their program or how hard he was working.
"We'd get to the stadium and get ready for the game," Perez said. "We just run on the track, we don't do PFP, don't do all the stuff."
Now, if you as a Mets fan read this and say, "Oliver Perez should have taken it upon himself to do what he needed to do to get ready for the season", I agree with you completely. That part is Perez' fault all the way.
What's disturbing, though, is the part about how Dan Warthen couldn't get the Mexican pitching coach to return a call. Are you kidding me?
The fiction that we as fans were supposed to buy into -- a fiction that has been fed to us repeatedly since the inaugural Classic -- was that the coaches of the various teams would be in close, constant contact with the coaches of the teams who are paying the huge salaries those players collect. "Don't worry," they assured us, "Your team's players will be just as well prepared for the MLB season as if they were in their own team's camp."
I don't just blame the people running this tournament for allowing this to happen -- I blame the Mets front office and ownership. I would have given the Mexican coach one chance to return my call, then I would have been on the phone with the MLB powers that be with a simple request: Either get this guy to return a call, or I am immediately pulling my player off the team.
I am not one to rant and rave about the Wilpons in this space. I do believe they care what happens with this franchise, I just don't think they're the most competent ownership in baseball.
I have to call them out on this one, though. Fred Wilpon's insistence in slavishly falling into line behind Bud Selig is a detriment to this franchise. The Mets' unwillingness to buck the Commissioner's office on the arbitrary slotting in the amateur draft has ensured that players who may have helped their farm system have slipped to those teams who are not afraid to stare Selig down.
Not saying no to Selig in this case meant the Mets shouldered a burden far higher than any other team in baseball as far as players sent and the resultant disruption of preparing for the season. Bad enough, but now we find out that, at least in Perez' case, a player was allowed to spend crucial weeks completely beyond the control and guidance of his coach. By allowing this to happen the Mets once again did a disservice to their own fan base -- the ones who cough up the big bucks for game tickets, food, merchandise, cable television, and all those other things that make Selig's WBC ego trip possible.
American fans have taken a lot of unfair criticism for not supporting this tournament enough. Forgive me, please, if I happen to think real baseball is something that happens during the major league season and playoffs. We are the losers if a player is exposed to overuse in these exhibition games (Perez, K-Rod) or exposed to unnecessary injury risk (Wright).
Now the icing on the cake is that this idea that these players will be just as well-prepared for the season has been shown to be a farce by this revelation about Perez.
Again, let me restate that Ollie Perez should have taken it upon himself to ensure that he was in contact with his coaches and following the plan. I do not absolve him of the responsibility that the contract he signed puts upon him. But what was allowed to happen here is ultimately the responsibility of those who run things, and Ollie's immaturity doesn't take them off the hook. Shame on Omar Minaya and Fred Wilpon for impotently allowing this to happen. It's time to grow a pair, gentlemen, and represent those of us who fund your little enterprise.