PHOENIX — The game is supposed to be America’s national pastime, but the United States has not fared well in the World Baseball Classic.
Joe Torre is putting his manager’s uniform back on to lead Team USA in this year’s competition, but he cautions that there are reasons the U.S. has not won, or even made it to the title game, in the first two editions of the worldwide competition.
Torre, speaking Monday at a news conference in Phoenix, said players usually use spring training to get ready physically for the long major league season, slowly working in the mental edge along the way. But with the World Baseball Classic, they are asked to get that competitive edge in a hurry against countries that take this competition very seriously.
“I think a big part of it is the mental preparation for a postseason type of atmosphere,” Torre said.
Japan won the first two championships, beating Cuba in the finale in 2006 and South Korea in 2009.
There is more than a little grumbling among managers who lose players for two or three weeks at a crucial time when they are supposed to be putting together a cohesive team for the coming big league season. But, officially, MLB is a big supporter of this event, so that mutes the criticism. Those players don’t just go to Team USA, but to Venezuela, Mexico, Japan, Canada, even The Netherlands.
The team hit the hardest this year is the Milwaukee Brewers, who will lose 14 players during spring training, 11 of them from their 40-man roster.
“I get why a player would want to do it. I understand that,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “And we’re fine with them going and doing that, but it just happens that we’re getting hit with a lot of guys. We’re missing both catchers. It’s really important to us. We’ll just have to deal with it.”
Torre said he had the same reaction back in 2006 when the first World Baseball Classic was held.
“I’m manager of the Yankees and I’m saying, ‘Oh my goodness, what is this all about?’ Because they’re taking our players away.”
Now, he steps away from his duties as executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner’s office to try to build a winning team while at the same time giving the players, especially the pitchers, the same amount of work they’d get if they stayed in spring training. Torre also has enlisted retired pitching great Greg Maddux to help him.