Friday, June 4, 2010

US Will Win World Cup Before It Wins WBC

“The Disease of More,” a term that according to Bill Simmons was used by Pat Riley to describe why it is much harder to defend a championship then it is to win one. Riley’s point was that when a team wins a championship, the following season the players are infected with the disease of more. They want more money, more minutes, and more shots, throwing away the tight team concept that had originally won them the championship. Teams not only have to beat the all the other teams to defend their championship, they also have to beat the disease of more.

I thought of the disease of more when I was reading ESPN the magazine’s World Cup preview. In the magazine was an excerpt from “ESPN’s World Cup Companion” where two writers, one American and one British, were discussing whether the United States would ever be able to win the World Cup. The article ended with Roger Bennett, the British writer, stating that the US would win the World Cup before it wins the World Baseball Classic.

My first thought was “wow! That’s a bold prediction.” About 10 seconds later I thought, that’s a really far-fetched position. However after thinking this over for a few more minutes I quickly realized something else. Roger Bennett’s prediction is not far-fetched at all; in fact, Roger Bennett is going to be right.

And that is where the disease of more comes in. The disease of more has evolved from not just basketball, but to American society as a whole. We constantly need more things to do; we live in a society where there is just so much else going on.

Look no further to prove this point then American television. All you hear about in sports is how ratings are down, how the World Series needs to be played at 8:30 at night because this way they could draw higher ratings at the expense of not allowing kids to stay up late enough to watch. The NBA finals starts late at night in an effort to draw better ratings as well. All you hear about during the playoffs is it would be a ratings disaster if the small market teams make the finals. Well you know what the real issue is, there is just so much more to watch.

With DIRECTV, satellite companies, cable, digital cable, all fighting for customers, prices are so low that practically everyone has access to at least basic cable nowadays, while many people have satellite or digital cable, which provides hundreds of channels on your TV. The result of this is obvious, there is much more choice with what we want to watch. The reason ratings are low isn’t because people care less, people today care just as little as people 20 years ago, the difference is 20 years ago there was nothing else to watch.

The influx of television channels has more effects on society. Kids can now sit in front of a TV and be entertained all day with the surplus of channels and video games. The consequence is kids are no longer outside playing sports. Their sports consists of the 3 hours a week of organized sports, no pick up ball or sandlot baseball. We are no longer getting kids with street talent, rather only kids with organized sports and structured within a system talent. That is where our national teams will begin to suffer.

This helps to answer the question of how could we expect to win on the world stage in soccer before baseball when baseball is our national past time? The answer is simple, there is just so much else to do. Kids would rather sit and play video games then go out and play baseball. Most kids’ sports are restricted to organized sports only, and right now, more kids in America play soccer then any other sport.

Though baseball may have been invented in America and be America’s past time that doesn’t necessarily translate to global dominance. After all, America’s global dominance is almost becoming non-existent in the entire sports world. We were proved to be human when we lost the gold medal in basketball in 2004, and we only won it in 2008 after putting together a team and saying, in order to play in the Olympics you guys need to play together for a full 3 years, and actually take the Olympics seriously. Same goes with the game of baseball. Baseball in America is now played by kids who can afford equipment, play in little league, and move up the ranks. Kids that cannot afford equipment, well, many of them gravitate to basketball.

Now compare this to Latin American countries where many people are impoverished. Kids make baseball gloves out of whatever material they could find, and spend every moment they can on dirt fields playing the game. It’s no wonder many of Major League Baseballs stars are from Latin American decent, the kids are playing baseball with every second of their free time.

The real reason Roger Bennett’s prediction will stand is because the United States will never actually win the World Baseball Classic, ever. There is too much else for American kids to do these days, and nothing else to do for kids in Latin America. More importantly look at the reason this tournament even exists, because of the disease of more; the tournament was created so MLB could make more money. And that’s really all this tournament is for the Americans. The players speak of the pride of representing their country, but who in this country actually cares. Compare that to the Dominican Republic, or Cuba, or the team that has won both classics, Japan. The tournament means everything to those players, fans, and countries, while in America it just means a way for MLB to make more money. America will never take this tournament seriously and therefore will never actually win the World Baseball Classic. And that is why Mr. Bennett is correct; the United States will win the World Cup before it wins the World Baseball Classic.

My Tipping Point With The Mets

Despite no longer having any papers to put off writing, or any tests to put off studying for, I’ve still been re-reading Now I Can Die In Peace by Bill Simmons. The book was a collection of Red Sox related columns written by Simmons from around 1998 until after they won the World Series in 2004. Last night I opened it up to where I left off and found that I was reading emails that were sent to Simmons by fans after Aaron Boone’s home run in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS. When I first read the book at the end of 2005 these emails had no affect on me, but now, they make me think; they make me think of Game Seven in the 2006 NLCS when the Mets lost to the Cardinals.

Obviously the magnitude of these games was significantly different. The long-suffering Red Sox, finally thinking they would overcome the Yankees, only to have their manager ruin it for them. What really caught my attention was in his next column, when he talked about how there was a weird vibe of optimism in Boston that winter, coming after their worst heartbreak yet. He described the optimism coming after the team acquired Curt Schilling, and thinking, this team is coming back next year, we should have beaten the Yankees, we can beat the Yankees, next year we will actually beat the Yankees. Then I saw another email from a reader, talking about how after Game Seven he saw a group of 17 year olds totally in shock, with a “this was our year, how could this happen” look on their face. That email seemed way to have too many personal connections with me.

Those 17 year olds were me in 2006. I was 17 years old in October of 2006; I watched that team all season long, that team took over life to the point that one of my Mets fan teachers re-scheduled a test because it would have been the night after Game Two of the World Series. You know, because there was no reason not to expect the Mets in the World Series. We were the best, we dominated every team we played against. This was our year. We were by far the best team in the National League, the Yankees were having a down year (though somehow managed to finish with the same record as us), the World Series representative for the American League were the used to be awful Detroit Tigers. How could we not win the World Series?

It was literally a state of shock that fell over me after Game Seven. How could we lose? But later, I felt that same sense of optimism come over me though, we were the best this year, and were going to be even better next year. We would be back to win it next year.

Fast-forward to 2010, where we can look back on back to back September collapses, followed by a disastrous season in 2009, and then to now, where my tipping point has finally been reached. They say in Baseball that when you lay the foundation for a team that team has five years to win a championship. Well the foundation was laid in 2005, which is why in 2010 it is time for the Mets to blow this thing up and start over. The problem is they in no way can build another contender like that 2006 team.

2006 was the coming of a perfect storm for the Mets. They had Jose Reyes who was finally healthy, ready to be healthy for a full season. They had David Wright, about to enter his third season in the big leagues and was ready to make “the leap.” Furthermore they put the other pieces in place, a great center fielder in Carlos Beltran ready to prove something, and a new power hitting first baseman. We keep entering a new season thinking this year we’ll get back to the way we were in 2006, but really Reyes, Wright, and Pedro Feliciano are the only people who are playing now that played for the Mets in 2006. (There are two others that pitched for that team that are still with the Mets now, John Maine and Oliver Perez. Look at how that has turned out for the Mets).Gone are the ever important role players, guys like Cliff Floyd, who took David Wright under his wing as a rookie, and Jose Valentine who mentored Jose Reyes.

The 2006 Mets were made up of a core group of players as well as veteran role players who you knew what you were going to get from them. Paul Lo Duca behind the plate, you knew he would work the count and let Reyes steal bases and get into scoring position, something that was incredibly valuable for those Mets. Now we have Luis Castillo bunting Reyes over to second. Steve Trachsel was our #3 starter, you knew he would take forever to pitch and would give up a lot of runs, but knowing this, he got run support, and led the team in wins that year. The Mets were lead by a young core who in their early years were being mentioned in the same sentence as the words “Hall of Fame.” Now the Mets are lead by a core that people question if they will ever be good enough, surrounded by a bunch of question marks. The moment has passed this team. There is no more “we’ll be back next year” feeling like the 2003 Red Sox had, there is no “wait till next year” cry that was made famous with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the late 40’s and early 50’s. The team needs to be completely rebuilt.

This is not an easy task; there is no Jose Reyes or David Wright waiting in the wings. There is no third year potential superstar ready to make the “leap.” Look at where the team is where this team is now, and lets look ahead by two years. Ike Davis will be a third year player ready to make “the leap,” but who will be around him. Reyes and Wright will be at the tail end of their prime, there will be no more Beltran, Johan Santana will be near the end of his contract and that’s working on the assumption that he doesn’t kill himself for never getting any run support or killing the Mets bullpen for being unable to hold a lead for him. Jason Bay will be old and not able to hit the ball out of CitiField as opposed to the Jason Bay of today who can’t hit the ball out of CitiField.

When I read the Red Sox fan reaction after 2003 I compared it to my reaction after 2006. However I then came to realize that those fans were rewarded with a World Series win the following year, but for me, I realized it would be much worse. There was no next year for the Mets, or the year after, and now it will be a long time. The Mets are battling mediocrity this year in a very mediocre National League, but they are unable to pull away. Furthermore in the years coming there is really nothing bright to look foreword too. The Mets will continue to float around mediocrity for years to come, and that chance to win the World Series has come and gone for the foreseeable future.