The World Baseball Classic concluded last night with Japan as champions for the second straight time. It was an entertaining tournament, even if most people didn't pay attention. Preseason baseball is, after all, preseason baseball; we'll take what we can get.
Still, despite whatever nominal success the tournament had, perhaps the most notable aspect of the WBC is the pressure it puts on players to play in competitive baseball before the season starts. It creates a no-win situation for MLB players. Either they play for their country and their franchise team -- the one dumping millions into their pockets -- is irritated, or they deny their national team and stay home and anger their countrymen.
That's exactly the situation Cubs first basemen Derrek Lee found himself in a few days ago when USA first basemen Kevin Youkilis was sidelined with an injury. Lee was called and pressured to play for the national team, and he didn't like that one bit:
After saying last week that he wouldn't be able to play in the WBC, Lee said: "They started calling me. They needed a first baseman. But I couldn't go, not being 100 percent." Lee returned Sunday after missing the last five games because of his injured right quadriceps. "I thought it was disrespectful, to be truthful," he said. "They knew I wasn't playing here [in camp]. How do they expect me to get off the trainer's table and start playing there?"
Lee said he understood why the WBC wanted him to be a TRUE AMURRICAN No. 1 FOREVER and go play for his country's side, and why they figured it was a worth a shot to call him, but overall, his point is valid: why on Earth are WBC officials trying to round up injured players for a tournament that barely matters to anyone? It's one thing to put these players in a bad spot to begin with. It's entirely another to keep pestering them, even when they're hurt.
It has a vaguely creepy feel, like the cortisone shot in Varsity Blues. But at least those guys were playing for a high school title. "World Baseball Classic Champs" is several notches below.
Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger who wants real baseball to start now. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, FanHouse, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com. Follow him on Twitter.