With Classic almost in books, hopefully lesson was learned

March 20, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

So, tonight we will say farewell to the World Baseball Classic until 2009, when - we can only hope - some of the wrinkles will be ironed out and the Orioles will not have to supply all the players.

The inaugural baseball "World Cup," regardless of the outcome of tonight's showdown between Cuba and Japan, should be viewed as a qualified success. Major League Baseball succeeded in creating an exciting event that extended the international reach of the sport while introducing American fans to an outside world of baseball talent they barely knew existed.

The next time, however, the organizers need to have the World Umpires Association on board and a player selection process that spreads the impact of the event more evenly over the 30 major league clubs.

In short, baseball commissioner Bud Selig fulfilled his dream of an MLB-sponsored global tournament and enhanced his personal legacy. Now, there's plenty of time to analyze all that went right and wrong and use that information to turn the tournament into a truly spectacular international celebration of our national pastime.

The state of boxing's heavyweight division can be summed up in the reaction I got when I asked a bartender at Bill Bateman's Bistro on Saturday night if the restaurant would be showing the heavyweight title fight between Baltimore-bred World Boxing Council champion Hasim Rahman and inflatable former middleweight, light heavyweight and cruiserweight champ James Toney.

"There's a heavyweight title fight tonight?" she replied.

My heart bleeds for spurned Rahman promoter Don King, who held a news conference to promote the coming Floyd Mayweather-Zab Judah fight and then spent much of it ripping Rock for wriggling out of a contract that would have kept King in control of the heavyweight division.

Rahman was able to escape the contract because he filed for bankruptcy, which doesn't exactly reflect well on his financial relationship with King, who reportedly lured him away from a rich HBO deal with a gym bag full of cash after Rock upset Lennox Lewis to win the linear championship in 2001.

Carmine Valente of Annapolis, who attended both Manhattan College and graduate school at the University of Maryland, had mixed emotions about Saturday's National Invitation Tournament game, but ended up rooting for the Jaspers because the game clearly meant more to them than it did to the Terps.

Valente, a two-sport Jasper in the 1960s, also educated me on the origin of Manhattan's nickname, which dates to the college's first baseball coach, Brother Jasper, who is credited by some with being the originator of baseball's seventh-inning stretch back in 1882.

The college has some nice lore to go along with the legend - and Valente sent along some supporting documentation from the National Baseball Hall of Fame - but baseball historians have found references to fans standing in the middle of the seventh inning that date as far back as 1869.

The Toronto Blue Jays breathed a premature sigh of relief over the weekend when a magnetic resonance imaging test revealed no serious damage to the reconstructed elbow of $55 million free agent starting pitcher A.J. Burnett after it flared up in the second inning of Saturday's exhibition start.

Obviously, it's good news that his elbow didn't come unglued, but Burnett is going to be shelved for the next week or so and there is no guarantee that he'll be pain-free when he returns to the mound for his final spring tuneups.

Can you imagine the anxiety level in the Jays' front office if he isn't able to open the season on time?

My favorite Internet headline of the week has nothing to do with sports, unless you can come up with a NASCAR tie-in:

Couple Nailed In Naked Joyride

The Italian couple who made international news Friday wasn't exactly a couple of spring chickens. The woman was 71 years old and the man was 59. Apparently, there was some alcohol involved.

While we're off the subject, I was sorry to hear that Dukes of Hazzard star Tom Wopat was arrested on drunken driving charges in New Jersey, but there's absolutely no truth to the rumor that he led police on a high-speed chase with a Jerry Reed song playing in the background.

Funny headline from SportsPickle.com, the Maryland-based sports humor site on the web:

Dan Snyder Blissfully Unaware That NFL Is Still Operating With A Salary Cap

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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