The reaction to Edwin Diaz tearing his patellar tendon during the World Baseball Classic when celebrating a win for Puerto Rico over the Dominican Republic rapidly split into visceral partisanship. On one side were the rabid WBC fans; on the other were the fans who were either indifferent to the spectacle or hated it outright. Diaz’s injury became fodder for rampant logical fallacies; self-justifications; and a confirmation bias about the tournament itself. This is a rare instance where there is no “right” or “wrong.” Still, there is a disconnect between what happened to Diaz and how people reacted to it.
I have never been a fan of the WBC. I think it’s a silly, manufactured product masquerading as an event designed to take on the pageantry and status of the FIFA World Cup, the Olympics and other longstanding competitions where players at the top of their professional leagues compete for their country against other countries. For me, more than any undertones of a marketing scam or meaninglessness of it, the timing was the peak of its absurdity.
It’s played during spring training. Players leave their teams and join their country’s team. Often, their “country” isn’t even their country. They’re allowed to play based on which country they have a thin shred of a connection to – think the third cousin once removed was a quarter British so they can play for Great Britain. Or they play for a team from a country that is not really their own but for that minuscule drop of blood, they can play. This while they wouldn’t make their actual home country’s team. Marcus Stroman played for the U.S. in 2017 and is playing for Puerto Rico this time. What sense does it make?
They’re going one-hundred percent in March, playing to win, treating the games as if they’re postseason contests for a team that is not paying them. Repeatedly, we’ve heard players say that winning the WBC for their home country means more to them than winning a World Series. I’m sure owners love hearing that.
How about this? If they love it so much, tell them that if they get injured playing in it, their contract is voided. See how much they love it then as their agents, families and everyone else who somehow benefits from their lucrative paychecks forms a human shield to stop their plane to the WBC venue from taking off.
Before Diaz, there were no major injuries stemming from the WBC since its inception. The argument many made was that his injury – a non-baseball one where he was hurt celebrating instead of pitching – could have happened anywhere. The point being ignored is that it didn’t happen “anywhere.” It happened on the field wearing a uniform that said Puerto Rico instead of Mets and he’s lost for the season.
Players are hurt off the field or suffer fluke on-field injuries all the time. Chris Sale flew over the handlebars of his bicycle and broke his wrist; Jim Lonborg hurt his knee skiing; Vince Coleman was run over by an automatic tarpaulin and lost for the 1985 World Series; Jeff Kent broke his wrist riding a dirt bike and lied about it saying he slipped while washing his truck; Jerry Blevins fell off a curb and re-broke his arm as he was set to return from the previous break; Duaner Sanchez blew out his shoulder as a passenger in a cab accident; Aaron Boone blew out his knee playing basketball. It absolutely does happen.
Had something similar occurred with Diaz, the team and the fans would have been as angry and disappointed, but it would not have led to the overridingly irate response that the WBC was to blame. The tournament is not to blame, but the reality that it is a sanctioned event from MLB with clubs having limited control over their players blurs the line between what MLB deems as beneficial for its product and the employer-employee relationship.
Much was made of the announcement that the Mets and owner Steve Cohen would not be on the hook for Diaz’s salary for the time he spends on the disabled list after knee surgery. That’s very nice, but do you really think Cohen cares about Diaz’s $21.25 million salary? Or does he want the pitcher who finished ninth in the National League Cy Young Award voting in 2022, was just signed to a five-year, $102 million contract and was expected to be a key component for a World Series run?
A common sentiment from those avidly defending the WBC is the quality of play, fan enthusiasm, the excitement it has engendered and the massive ratings. Again, all true. This morphed into the preposterous argument that if you dislike the WBC, you’re not a “real” baseball fan.
There are rules to being a fan? Ok. Here’s a rule. Fans have teams they support and they prioritize their team’s success over a country winning a tournament that I defy you to name who won in any of the previous times it was held. Owners of MLB teams are paying their players a lot of money to work for them; to play and help their team win.
Then there were the snide responses when a player was hurt in a spring training game. “Oh, so are we supposed to cancel spring training now?”
No. But a player getting injured in a spring training game when he’s trying to get his timing down and get ready for the regular season while playing for his employing team differs greatly from a player getting injured in the WBC. In spring training, Diaz was being managed and overseen by Yadier Molina whose mandate was to win for Puerto Rico. At Port St. Lucie, he was being overseen by Buck Showalter and his staff whose mandate is to get the team ready to play from April through, they hope, October.
See the difference?
Teams were lauded for treating their operation as ruthless businesspeople with a litany of books about Billy Beane, Theo Epstein, the Rays and the Astros. Now looking at it as a business means you don’t love the game?
I do not like the WBC. I do not watch the WBC. Am I less of a fan because I was concerned that exactly what happened would happen as one of the stars for the team I support – the Mets – was injured while off and away from the Mets’ supervision? No. It makes me rational in that I view it from an employer-employee perspective and said employee became injured taking part in an irrelevant competition away from his high-paying job and it’s having a negative impact on the Mets and the game in general for no acceptable reason whatsoever.