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PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES AND INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION-IS IT TOO RISKY?

Kansas City Royals fans and management are cringing this morning.  In a Pool D contest at the World Baseball Classic in Jalisco, Mexico yesterday, Royals catcher Salvador Perez left with an apparent knee injury. He was playing for his native Venezuela. To add insult to injury it was as a result of a home plate collision with his backup in Kansas City, Drew Butera who was trying to score the tying run for Team Italy.  Perez was guarding home plate while Butera was trying to score.  Venezuela won the game 11-10 in ten innings.  The Detroit Tigers are also licking their wounds from this game and that play.  Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez strained his groin while acting as the cutoff man on the play.

Perez will sit out the remainder of the World Baseball Classic and return to the Royals training camp in Arizona.  Initial examination has shown that the knee injury isn’t that serious.

Royals catcher Salvador Perez playing for Team Venezuela at the World Baseball Classic.

This incident made me think back to other situations where professional athletes have been injured while playing in international competitions.

The National Hockey League is leaning towards not participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea for this exact reason.  The owners feel that to close down in the middle of the season to let high-priced players play full tilt for their country has become too much of a risk.

At the Sochi Olympics in 2014 both of New York’s hockey teams took a hit.  The Islanders got a huge scare when all-star center John Tavares, while playing for Team Canada was checked hard into the boards in a game against Latvia.  Tavares had suffered a torn MCL and a torn meniscus.  He was out for the remainder of the Isles 2013-14 season.

2014-02-20-tavares-injuryNew York

Islanders all-star center John Tavares is helped off the ice while playing for team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

 

Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello also returned home injured.  He suffered a broken hand while playing for Team Norway.  Other injuries in Sochi included Florida Panthers forwards Aleksandr Barkov (playing for Finland) and Tomas Kopecky (playing for Slovakia).  Detroit Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg aggravated a back injury while playing for Team Sweden.

Prior to this year’s season, the NHL and the International Hockey Federation teamed up to stage the World Cup of Hockey.  This tournament is similar to the World Baseball Classic and claimed two of the NHL’s young stars.

Florida Panthers star defenseman Aaron Ekblad left the tournament following what turned out to be a concussion.  He was playing for Team North America.  Panthers ownership pulled him from the competition.  Ekblad was able to open the NHL season for Florida.

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins also had to hold their breath.  Goaltender Matt Murray suffered a thumb injury while also playing for team North America.

So the question remains, are owners and management going to continue to support sending their stars to these tournaments?  Like I’ve said before, I’m all for shuffling the deck and watching professional athletes play for their country.  However, this latest chapter that claimed three players on one play makes me wonder what the answer is.

I am not a fan of preseason tournaments like the WBC and the World Cup of Hockey since the players shouldn’t be playing full tilt yet.  I am a fan of international competition when players are in top shape.  The Olympics have featured NHL and KHL players since 1998 in mid-season form but the rash of injuries in 2014 speaks for itself.  The NBA has sent players to the Olympics since 1992 right after the end of its playoffs.  There haven’t been any major injuries in Olympic basketball competition, however the NBA stars have shied away from the Olympic at times to not risk injury.  Lebron James and Stephan Curry are prime examples, both sat out this past summer’s games in Rio.

So the question remains and the debate will continue without an answer.  International competition is great, but at what cost?

 

 

 

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WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-PROS AND CONS OF THE WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC

The World Baseball Classic was born as a result of the International Olympic Committee removing baseball as an Olympic event in 2005.  Beginning in 2006, Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association and International Baseball Federation developed the idea of a World Cup style tournament to determine an international World Champion.

Image result for world baseball classic

I’m all for international competition in any sport.  With the return of baseball to the Olympic Stage in 2020, I would love to see MLB send players to Tokyo the same way the NHL has since 1998.  Every time NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hints at pulling the plug on the league’s Olympic involvement, it makes me cringe.

Here’s where I have a problem, it’s the scheduling.  Why on earth would you have the best players in the world represent their country when they haven’t played meaningful baseball since September or October?

Pitchers and catchers will begin filtering into training camps in mid February.  Position players will follow roughly a week later.  The World Baseball Classic is scheduled to begin on March 6th.  Why would any owner, or the players association risk having their brightest stars play full tilt away from their team when they should be loosening up and performing infield drills and soft tossing?  The NHL did the same thing this past preseason when they staged the World Cup of Hockey.  That tournament resulted in injuries to players and put them behind in training camp!  I do realize that hockey is a more physical sport than baseball and the training camp is much shorter.

My point here is that players aren’t ready, and even if they are, they aren’t where they need to be this time of year.  What if the likes of Max Scherzer blows out his elbow?  What if there is a collision between Andrew McCuthchen and Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield? It’s too risky this early in my opinion for such high profile players to be playing full tilt.

Image result for giancarlo stanton Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins (Team USA)

That being said, I do believe that the WBC is a great idea .  Here’s my thought, even though some players are a little beat up by late September and into the post-season, they are still in full tilt playing form.  The venues that are selected are either indoors or in warm climates.  The weather and conditions in November and December are similar to the conditions in March.  Miami, San Diego, and Los Angeles are the three American venues this year.  Tokyo’s Tokyo Dome is hosting one Oriental pool, while South Korea is playing host indoors as well.  The other venues are in the Caribbean and Mexico.

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Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles.  Venue for the WBC Finals

 

Of course, there is still the risk of injuries and accidents, but the players won’t be coming out of the off-season.  Any minor injury will have the rest of the winter to heal and have the player ready for a full Spring Training.  Although there is always a risk of an injury to a player it’s less likely to happen when players are in condition.

Commissioner Manfred, I ask that you consider moving this tournament to the end of the season.