It’s human nature that no matter how great something may be, we can always find a way to make it even better. At least, we think we can. Well, at least I think I can.
So when it comes to the World Baseball Classic, I’m already thinking ahead to 2013. And apparently so are the powers that be, who seem to want to reinvent the wheel by turning a smooth little foreign model into an 18-wheeler.
For example, word is they want to expand from its current 16-team format to a 24-team lineup with more play-in rounds.
Bud (I can call you Bud, can’t I?). Dude. Please step away from the crazy.
As it is, 16 teams was a stretch. A really big stretch. A stretch as big as South Africa.
(I’ll cut the much-maligned Italy a break here, though apparently to qualify to play for Italy you have to either have had a) a parent born there; b) a grandparent born there; or c) have once slept at a Holiday Inn Express in Naples, Fla. or Rome, Ga.)
And they want to add more play-in rounds? Why, because this event is not already long enough and disruptive enough to the current spring training terrain? Because there aren’t enough players who are finding their effectiveness compromised, enough managers and coaches watching their players come back to camp unable to perform?
But I totally respect the desire to add inclusiveness to this global sport of baseball. So much so that I’ve got the perfect answer ) I’m not one to write a column complaining about something without offering a solution).
In lieu of South Africa, let’s make our 16th team a true World Team (I’m sure someone in marketing or Benjamin Hill will come up with a good name).
Here is a possible roster of players (active as recently as of 2008 or thereafter) who were born in countries that are not among the other 15 WBC teams.
Hey, I’d take these guys against South Africa.
C John Hattig, Guam: The first Guam native to make it to the Majors, he played in the indy leagues last year and appears to have retired but I bet he could still strap on the shinguards for us.
C Martin Cervenka, Czechoslovakia: The 17-year-old from Prague signed with Cleveland last month and hasn’t played pro yet but qualifies in my eyes because we need a bouncy Czech.
C Aeden McQueary-Ennis, England: Born in High Wycombe (I love that name), he was an eighth-round pick by San Diego in 2007 and dealt to Pittsburgh midway through 2008.
1B Rene Leveret, St. Maarten: He hit .286 with the Twins’ Class A Beloit club last summer and I have to have him on this team since that’s where I went on my honeymoon 25 years ago. (St. Maarten, not Beloit).
2B Scott Campbell, New Zealand: One of Toronto’s top infield prospects, Campbell hit .302 as an Eastern League All-Star in 2008 and looks like he’ll be the first Kiwi to hit the bigs. (That’s Scott on the right, below. The other guy is Aussie Luke Hughes who has his own WBC team. As far as I know there is no M&M team).
SS Orlando Cabrera, Colombia: By far the most deserving country not already repped in the WBC, Cabrera inked with Oakland as one of the few big money free agents this off-season.
3B Jeff Baker, Germany: We’re not really cheating to give this spot to Baker, Virginia-raised but born in Bad Kissagen as a military kid. He hit .268 with 12 homers and 48 RBIs with Colorado.
IF Callix Crabbe, USVI: The euphoniously named Callix Sadeaq Crabbe hails from St. Thomas. The versatile 5-foot-8 switch-hitter is currently with Seattle.
IF Craig Stansberry, Saudi Arabia: The San Diego farmhand’s dad was stationed in Dammen when Stansberry was born and moved to the U.S. when he was a month old.
IF Mpho “Gift” Ngoepe, South Africa: The first Black player from South Africa to turn pro when he signed with Pittsburgh, the 19-year-old is a totally legit shortstop prospect. And he was the star of that South African WBC team of whom I apologize for making so much fun.
OF Paolo Orlando, Brazil: The speedy Sao Paulo native came up with the White Sox but was dealt to Kansas City last August for pitcher Horacio Ramirez.
OF Antoan Richardson, Bahamas: The San Francisco prospect has stolen at least 30 bases each of his four pro seasons and 40 or more three times. He was drafted out of Vanderbilt where he was pursuing his engineering degree.
OF Franklin Toussaint, Haiti: One of a handful of pro Haitian players, he played for the Oakland club in the Dominican Summer League last year, hitting .274 in 39 games with nine steals.
OF Joris Bert, France: The first French player drafted, he was taken by the Dodgers in the 19th round of 2007 out of college in Texas and hit .250 in 28 games in the Gulf Coast League last summer.
LHP Mariano Gomez, Honduras: After posting a 2.76 ERA in 54 games in relief at Triple-A Rochester with the Twins last summer, Gomez signed as a free agent with Atlanta and hopes to become the first Honduran pitcher in the bigs in 2009.
RHP Devern Hansack, Nicaragua: Signed with Boston after spending a few years working as a lobsterman, the 31-year-old Hansack has posted a 3.70 ERA over parts of three seasons in the bigs.
RHP Eric Gonzalez, Spain: Drafted out of South Alabama this spring by San Diego, it took a few months for them to switch his student visa to a work visa but once they did he posted a 1.19 ERA in the Arizona League.
LHP Rikhu Singh, India: One of the two much-publicized Indian pitchers signed by Pittsburgh, the 19-year-old southpaw was the winner of his country’s “Million Dollar Arm” contest (the baseball equivalent of “Slumdog Millionaire” I guess). He had no baseball experience but was a javelin thrower in high school.
RHP Danny Graves, Vietnam: The first Vietnamese player, Graves has enjoyed a fine big league career with a 4.05 ERA in more than 500 games and is currently in the Houston system. He’d be the veteran presence and comic relief in the clubhouse. And maybe the pitching coach. (That’s him on the right, in one of the few pictures you’ll see of him where he’s not smiling).
RHP Henry Bonilla, El Salvador: Originally drafted by the Twins, Bonilla has spent the last two seasons with the Angels’ Triple-A Salt Lake squad, with a 4.67 ERA in 51 games in relief last summer.
RHP Tom Mastny, Indonesia: Now pitching in Japan, the former Toronto and Cleveland farmhand was born on the island of Borneo and became the first native of his country (and the only one so far) to play in the big leagues.
RHP Alfredo Venegas, Ecuador: The 22-year-old from Guayaquil posted a 4.89 ERA at Advanced A High Desert with Seattle last summer, striking out 87 in 112 innings.
LHP Andrei Lobanov, Russia: He posted a 3.54 ERA with Minnesota’s Gulf Coast League team in 2008, striking out 17 while walking three in 20 1/3 innings. Coincidentally, the club also has a Russian southpaw reliever there named Nick Lobanov and the two are not related. Weird.
RHP Justin Masterson, Jamaica: One of the top young pitchers in the Boston system, Masterson was born in Kingston when his dad was dean of students at the Jamaica Theological Seminary, becoming the first Jamaican-born pitcher in the big leagues.
RHP Dennis Gutierrez, Portugal: With the New York Mets club in the Venezuelan Summer League, Gutierrez had a 3.60 ERA and did not walk a batter, striking out nine, in 15 innings over four starts.
RHP Federico Tanco, Argentina: The 22-year-old posted a 4.43 ERA for the Nationals’ Gulf Coast League squad, striking out 24 in 22 1/3 innings while walking six.