International sporting events are a tricky thing. On paper, they should be the best spectacle in the sporting world: the greatest active athletes squaring off, motivated by national pride. This happens every four years in the World Cup, every year (albeit in a somewhat different form) in the UEFA Champions League, and every two years in (some) Olympic event.
There are plenty of sleep inducing Internationals too. Some Olympic events are brutal to watch and other competitions face issues with competitiveness; either no stars care enough to compete or only one country has a legitimately talented squad.
The World Classic is somewhere in between those two extremes. While most fans would at least like to be interested, the lack of media coverage puts a damper on the enthusiasm. Still the WBC found a way to make news recently, not with a home run or dramatic win, but with a brawl.
On Saturday, Mexico and Canada faced off, assumably competing for the title of America’s best neighbor. Late in the game a Canadian player bunted for a base hit, despite being up 9-3. The Mexican team took offense to this; when third baseman Luis Cruz fielded the ball, he pointed towards home plate and said something that amounted to ‘throw at him’ to the pitcher, Arnold Leon.
Leon complied. He threw two straight inside pitches to Canadian Rene Tosoni. The umpire promptly ordered a warning to both dugouts; the next pitch hit Tosoni in the back. The dugouts and bullpens cleared and unlike normal baseball ‘fights’, which are a glorified shoving match with some chest thumping, there was some intense wrestling. In the midst of it, Dodgers star Adrian Gonzalez was held back by former MLB player, current Canadian coach, and mountain of a man Larry Walker. When asked about the scrum, Walker said “I think I saw Satan in his eyes.”
While no one is condoning the fight, (even though there were no suspensions as both teams were eliminated)it arose from an interesting conflict between the rules of the WBC and the unwritten rules of baseball. While every sport has an unspoken code, baseball’s is especially rich. Most involve silent demonstrations of respect, whether a player does not cross the pitcher’s mound or a relief pitcher takes it easy when facing the opposing pitcher. By bunting for a base hit when the game seemed to be all but finished, Canada was accused of running up the score and prolonging Mexico’s suffering.
The WBC, though, is a tournament rather than the individual games found in a normal baseball season. It is conceivable that teams will finish group play with identical records, so some sort of tie breaking system is needed. The WBC breaks ties with something known as ‘team quality balance’, which is found with a really over-elaborate mathematical equation ((RS/IPO)-(RA/IPD)=TQB). In layman’s terms, that basically means run differential (runs scored- runs allowed).
Given that system, it was perfectly acceptable for Canada to bunt. They were doing what it took to give themselves the best chance to move forward in the competition (and as Herm Edwards says, “you play to win the game”). It is also worth noting there is a mercy rule in place to keep teams from actually running up the score. Even the Canadian manager admitted that forcing teams to score as many runs as possible is a flawed system. “There’s got to be another method other than running up the score on the opposing team,” Ernie Whitt said. “No one likes that. That’s not the way baseball’s supposed to be played.”
No matter who you blame, the brawl probably shouldn’t have happened. Mexico shouldn’t have taken offense to Canada trying to score as much as possible and the rules of the tournament shouldn’t have mandated running up the score. But hey, at least the WBC got some free press.