In the combined 15 years I served as general manager of both the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals, I was always a huge proponent of the World Baseball Classic. Baseball is an international sport, and perhaps someday the World Series will include teams from around the world rather than just clubs from the United States and Canada.
Until then, the WBC is a welcome alternative. It’s been a relative success internationally, underscored in 2009, when each game averaged 2 million viewers. Japan won both the 2006 and 2009 tournaments, while the United States, which has arguably the best collection of players in the world, has not fared well in the WBC mainly because so many players decline invitations to participate.
Their reasons for not playing are varied and justified to a certain degree. Money plays a part; Justin Verlander isn’t participating for fear of injury during contract negotiations; Jurickson Profar is focused on making the Texas Rangers. If Profar plays in the WBC, it could mean the difference between making the team or not and receiving a big league paycheck or not. Mike Trout simply thought he needed a full spring training to be prepared for the regular season.
On the other hand, Russell Martin’s cavalier withdrawal from Team Canada because they wouldn't let him play shortstop illustrates the somewhat lax attitude many MLB players have toward the tournament. Martin’s actions essentially mock the WBC. Team USA has been guilty of this; they simply do not take the same amount of pride in the tournament as other countries such as Japan, Cuba, South Korea, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. Sure, it's not the Olympics, but those countries seem to better understand the honor and privilege of representing one’s country.
However, if the World Baseball Classic is to reach its potential and help the sport open doors to new revenues and audiences, we need to change the culture and attitude regarding major league players’ participation. For this to happen, baseball must make participation mandatory by all healthy players, just as it does for the All-Star Game. It should become part of the player uniform contract as well as the collective bargaining agreement.