In-season Classic would be a world of baseball fun

March 01, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

Phoenix -- Major League Baseball has done a pretty good job of keeping its employees on message about the World Baseball Classic, but you can bet there will be some changes in the format before WBC II.

The biggest complaint, though usually off the record, is the timing of the event, which is going to disrupt spring training and disadvantage internationally diverse teams such as the Orioles (11 players possibly participating) and the Los Angeles Angels (nine).

Trouble is, there really isn't a good time to hold it. The other logical month would be November, but that's the time when the greatest number of players are rehabbing injuries and it would also cut too deeply into an offseason that seems to get shorter every year.

The third option, which would not be popular with baseball owners, is to find a way to integrate it into the regular season. That wouldn't be easy, but I think baseball might benefit from thinking outside the box on this one.

How about scheduling the first round of the tournament during a four-day break in May, then do the same with the second round in June and play the final round as part of an extended All-Star break in July that could be packaged with the All-Star Game to create an international baseball version of Super Bowl Week?

There might be some concern about the minor disruption of pitching rotations at the two small breaks, and there would be the issue of reclaiming those lost days from the master schedule, but it is doable and an in-season WBC would ramp up international interest in the regular season.

Sound crazy and impractical? The first break could be absorbed by starting the season three or four days earlier. The second could be made up by each team playing a couple of doubleheaders. The loss of two or three dates would be a minor economic sacrifice by the owners, but they might make up that revenue with the enhanced proceeds and sponsorship money generated by a midseason baseball festival with worldwide appeal.

The event would be early enough to avoid seriously affecting the pennant races, and the breaks would be short enough to be almost therapeutic for most starting pitchers, who would miss one start each time the season was interrupted and just might be fresher down the stretch because of it.

Just so you know, this isn't just a product of my warped imagination. The idea of opening space in the regular-season schedule for each round came from a prominent American League manager. The idea of a baseball version of Super Bowl Week at midseason was mine, though I'm sure something like this was considered when baseball officials were brainstorming the WBC.

Maybe they ought to think again.

Chicago White Sox general manager Ken Williams broke about 10 rules of baseball etiquette when he publicly called former Sox superstar Frank Thomas "an idiot" on Sunday in response to The Big Hurt's public complaints about his departure from the team after 16 seasons.

For some reason, I find that refreshing.

Thomas and the White Sox have had a rocky relationship over the past several years, largely because of the strange structure of the big contract extension he signed after the 1997 season, which included a "diminished skills" clause and several options that created the opportunity for chronically strained feelings.

Who's right? Who cares? I just like it when people in high places say what they really feel.

In case anyone was wondering, I did not sign the television release being distributed by Barry Bonds for the prospective docu-series that is being negotiated with ESPN.

If I'm going to be on a reality show, it's going to be in Fiji and I'm going to be interviewing lots of bronzed beach beauties. The release controversy just gave me the best excuse yet for failing to squeeze a single comment out of Barry while I was in Arizona this week. Barry has told reporters that he will not grant interviews to anyone who refuses to sign a form giving him the right to film them for the cable series documenting his quest to pass Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron on the all-time major league home run list.

I don't own the rights to my likeness, anyway. I lost them in a poker game to a guy who owns a company that supplies Before pictures for diet books and exercise machine commercials.

Roger Clemens still isn't saying whether he'll pitch in the majors this year, but I think it's fair to speculate that he will use the World Baseball Classic to gauge how much he still wants to play and whether he can remain healthy enough to enjoy another season. In short, if he doesn't get hurt, he'll be back.

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