Peter Gammons: WBC breaks through to show us something

The fact that Team U.S.A. won isn’t the point. Adam Jones and Eric Hosmer may have played with the fervor and passion of flag-waving Olympic moments from Jesse Owens to David Silk clearing the defensive zone to make real beliefs in miracles, but this isn’t the same. If there were a Cuban-American team in the World Baseball Classic, Hosmer and Nolan Arenado might well have played for them because of their pride in the remarkable Cuban culture.

The diligent, exhaustive work so many in Major League Baseball have put into the WBC for a dozen years has now been realized, with historic passion in Miami and sellouts in Japan, the game spread to Tel Aviv and Korea. This tournament was a success because it celebrated the diversity that has made our country great. A decade ago Orlando ‘El Duque’ Hernandez and I used to have a little fist-bashing game celebrating with the words “Boat People” the fact that we all come from somewhere, from Havana or England or Italy by boat. Just the way every year MLB celebrates one of its proudest moments, the day Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, seven years before Brown v. The Board of Education.

In a period in American history when diversity of cultures and religions have become such a political hot button divide and there has been such a rise in supremacists praying on fear to trumpet a monolithic culture, this WBC gloried the opposite. Part of the reason the games were so compelling was the passion, the pride of players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican, even Team Israel, which sparked a pride in so many of my friends in their heritage.

A couple of years ago, when Yasiel Puig’s batflips and sometime wild boar approach to the game became so controversial, one Red Sox executive said, “we love him in our house because that’s the way my boys play.” Indeed, that’s the way a lot of us played when we were ten and developing our bond to baseball, flipping whiffle bats after clearing our house in Evansville, Ind., as Don Mattingly once did, or California, like Trayce Thompson and Kevin Love in their epic backyard whiffleball games.

What has been so interesting in the four WBC’s is the different baseball cultures, how Korea infielders seem to come out of the ground to field ground balls, the discipline of the Japanese, the passion of the Dominican and Puerto Rico. Baseball is their game, but it is our game because it is inclusive, so much so that there are bridges and statues in Boston named for David Ortiz, Roberto Clemente’s statue is a monument, and someday in Seattle there will be a statue honoring Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki.

When Jose Fernandez hit his first major league homer, he did what he did growing up a junior third base star, flip the bat; the Braves took offense, and Fernandez later said he better understood that the flip was from his culture, not the American baseball culture he struggled so hard to join. This month, American kids have seen all those diverse baseball cultures, and have embraced it. No one complained about their joy, it was refreshing, and because failure and soul-less numbers are such a part of the game, when Adam Jones leaped over the fence to help save one USA victory, he celebrated. He didn’t show an opponent up. He was embracing the moment. Adam Jones is described on Wikipedia as “flamboyant,” and he may be with his shoes and fire, but is a proud father whose wife Audie is the daughter of Jean Fugett, arguably the greatest football player in Amherst College history, and Jones is the player who carries out whatever message Buck Showalter needs delivered, on a team that has won more games the last five years than anyone else in the American League East.

Dennis Eckersley pumped his fist when he closed games, breathing out the tension, and it bothered some who didn’t know him. Greg Maddux on the mound was stoic, a human metronome that his his career faced 20,421 batters and take away his 177 intentional walks, had 133 3-and-0 counts. Pedro Martinez pitched with the duende of a Spanish matador. All are in Cooperstown. Henry Aaron and Willie Mays had completely different styles, and they might be the two best players any of us ever saw.

That Team U.S.A. win was a celebration of the American baseball culture, but the tournament, in its entirety, was a celebration of the game’s diversity, and the game is immensely better off for that now, as opposed to 11 years ago when the WBC was in its infancy. Obviously growing the game is part of growing revenues, but the tournament has grown the game to include cultures and styles that encourage imagination, and different viewing habits than when Enos Slaughter made his dash around the bases.

If, on Opening Day, Bryce Harper hits a 435 foot home run, he should enjoy it. If the Red Sox that day find a way to beat Gerrit Cole, let Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Andrew Benintendi do their little dance in center.

If, on Opening Day, Bryce Harper hits a 435 foot home run, he should enjoy it. If the Red Sox that day find a way to beat Gerrit Cole, let Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Andrew Benintendi do their little dance in center field. If Yoenis Cespedes goes yard, ride with the king.

The baseball season is a lifetime, whose champion may play 180 emotionally challenged games. Players and their fans should be allowed, in Warren Zevon’s words, to enjoy every sandwich. The WBC showed us that may be the way the game should be played today, how important it is that baseball opens the gates of freedom of culture and expression, and how important its global diversity is to its entertainment future.

Comments

  1. Christophe stewart says:

    Peter great article as always, thought chuck Todd had best idea did and. Conduct opening rounds during spring break. Give MLB entire week for the all Star break and play the end that week + all Star game, just a thought.

    How many 3 pitch innings did Greg mad dog have? I remember 1 and I believe it was in the same game the braves had a triple play.

    Keep up great work, loving reading your articles. Chris