Did you watch the World Baseball Classic? If not, you missed one of the most popular sporting events of 2023.
by Christian Corey
WHAT IS THE WBC?
The World Baseball Classic is an international baseball tournament that was created in 2006 by Major League Baseball and Major League Baseball Players Association. The tournament was originally modeled after the FIFA World Cup and was created in large part as a response to the Olympics officially excluding baseball ahead of the 2012 summer games in London.
This four-year-cycled international tournament dates back to 2006. With the global pandemic the tournament took a six-year gap with its latest occurance this year.
2006 Team Samurai Japan was the first champion following a victory over Cuba.
2009 Japan would go back-to-back after defeating their rival, South Korea.
2013 a new WBC Champion arose after the Dominican Republic ousted Puerto Rico.
2017 Team U.S.A. is officially recognized as the world’s best producer of baseball talent after beating Puerto Rico.
FACES OF THE WBC
The WBC is still a fairly new tournament and baseball has been hard-pressed to convince major league owners to allow their multi-million dollar superstars to play in what they find to be a “meaningless tournament”. However, the 2023 edition could’ve arguably featured the greatest amount of star power the tournament has ever seen. Here is a list of some of the stars who represented their respective countries.
Jose Altuve (Astros)
Luis Arraez (Marlins & 2022 A.L. Batting Champion)
Ronald Acuna Jr. (Braves)
Miguel Cabrera (Tigers)
Edwin Diaz (Mets & Reliever of the Year Winner)
Francisco Lindor (Mets)
Javier Baez (Tigers)
Randy Arozarena (Rays)
Jose Urquidy (Astros)
Julio Urias (Dodgers)
Juan Soto (Padres)
Manny Machado (Padres)
Julio Rodriguez (Mariners & A.L. ROY Winner)
Rafael Devers (Red Sox)
Sandy Alcántara (Marlins & Cy Young Winner)
Shohei Ohtani (Angels & 2022 A.L. MVP)
Masataka Yoshida (Red Sox)
Yoshinobu Yamamoto (Orix Buffaloes)
Roki Sasaki (Chiba Lotta Marines)
Munetaka Murakami (Tokyo Yakult Swallows)
Mike Trout (Angels)
Mookie Betts (Dodgers)
Trea Turner (Phillies)
J.T. Realmuto (Phillies)
Jeff McNeil (Mets & 2022 N.L. Batting Champion)
Pete Alonso (Mets)
Paul Goldschmidt (Cardinals)
Nolan Arenado (Cardinals & 2023 Gold Glove Winner)
Freddie Freeman (Dodgers)
Joc Pederson (Giants)
Australia v. Cuba
The Australians would score first in the second inning after a home run to right field from Rixon Wingrove, it was 1-0 Australia. However, the Cubans took a 4-1 lead in the fifth following a single right off the bat of Yoelkis Guilbert. Cuba would win the game 4-3.
Italy v. Japan
The Japanese took a commanding 4-0 lead in the third inning following a Kazuma Okamoto 3-run. Then in the fifth inning, Japan put up three more runs to make it 7-2. Samurai Japan would advance following a 9-3 victory.
Puerto Rico v. Mexico
Puerto Rico scored early thanks to Javier Baez who hit a two-run home run to make the game 3-0. However, Mexico would counterpunch in the seventh after a single to right field from Luis Urias, this gave Mexico the lead and a 5-4 win.
U.S.A. v. Venezuela
The United States put up three runs in the first inning thanks to an RBI single from Kyle Tucker. However, Venezuela would take a 6-5 lead in the fifth after Ronald Acuna Jr. hit a sacrifice fly to center field which scored Luis Arraze. Despite Venezuela’s best efforts, U.S.A. won the game after Trea Turner hit a grand slam in the eighth inning to finish 9-7.
Cuba v. U.S.A.
After Cuba scored first following a bases-loaded walk, Paul Goldschmidt hit a two-run home run to give U.S.A. a 2-1 lead. A big blow came in the sixth inning after Trea Turner hit a grand slam to give the United States a 12-2 lead. Team U.S.A. would end up winning and advance to the finals for the second time in WBC history.
Japan v. Mexico
Mexico took a surprising 3-0 lead over Japan in the fourth inning following a Luis Urias three-run shot to left field. Japan would tie the game up with a three-run home run that came off the bat of Masataka Yoshida. The Mexicans took the lead back after Alex Verdugo doubled and Isaac Paredes singled in the eighth inning. Japan had the last laugh after their nation’s best power hitter Munetaka Murakami hit a walk-off double to allow team Samurai to advance to their third WBC final.
U.S.A. v. Japan
The United States got the scoring started after Trea Turner sent his fifth home run of the tournament into the left-field bleachers. Team Japan responded quickly with a home run of their own from Munetaka Murakami to tie at 1-1. Then in the bottom of the fourth Kazuma Okamoto sent a ball over the center field wall making it 3-1 Japan. However, Kyle Schwarber’s home run in the eight put America within one run and set up an epic final at-bat.
Trout v. Ohtani
Two of the best players in the world Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, who are also teammates on the Los Angeles Angels, would face off in a matchup for the tournament’s final at-bat. The at-bat would eventually run to a 3-2 count that would end with Mike Trout, the United States captain, striking out against a fastball from Japan’s captain Shohei Ohtani. This strike-out secured Japan’s third WBC championship and proved that Japan is one of the world’s best producers of professional baseball talent.
In Japan, a country of 125 million people, 62 million viewers watched Samurai Japan play Korea. This game exceeded Japanese viewership for each sport competition during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The WBC championship game between the U.S.A. and Japan delivered the most-watched World Baseball Classic Game ever in the United States with a total viewership of 5.2 million. Also, some of the WBC players gained a large following as well. Lars Nootbaar, a 25-year-old California-born outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, decided to represent Japan in honor of his Japanese mother. Nootbar became a nationwide phenomenon after he introduced the popular “pepper grinder” celebration to his Japanese teammates. This celebration helped Nootbar's Instagram following grow from 600,000 to 1 million in two weeks.
WHEN IS THE NEXT WBC?
Did you watch the WBC? If not, you missed the most popular sporting event of 2023’s Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. announced the next WBC will be held four years from now in 2026. Stay tuned for the announcing of the host cities that are still unknown.