World Baseball Classic
Three days after baseball was dropped from the Olympics in July of 2005, MLB and the Major League Players Association announced a preliminary schedule for an inaugural “Word Baseball Classic” (WBC) to be held in March of 2006, during spring training.
With a co-sanctioning from the International Baseball Federation, World Anti-Doping Agency rules were to be adhered to by MLB and baseball federations of competing countries.
Cuba’s Eduardo Paret stretches to beat pick-off throw to Albert Pujols of the Dominican Republic during I WBC.
MLB’s commissioner Selig stated the “World Baseball Classic” will internationalize the sport “in a very dramatic way.” But Cuba’s then Baseball Commissioner, Carlos Rodriguez, said, in July of 2005, that such an event should be not be managed by MLB. He said that MLB is profit-driven and has not shown past interest in developing the discipline of baseball internationally.
The inaugural “World Baseball Classic” was an international MLB marketing extravaganza, with major league and other professional athletes from 16 nations in competition. The 18-day event was played in Puerto Rico, Japan and the United States in March of 2006.
After Cuba’s participation was initially rejected by the U.S. Treasury Department in December, 2005, Latin American countries, including Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, threatened to boycott the event. And rather than seek monetary compensation for participation in the WBC, which is prohibited by U.S. trade sanctions, the Cuban Baseball Federation offered that its share of proceeds from the event be given to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
After the IBAF threatened to withdraw its approval of the entire WBC, thereby scuttling the event, tournament organizers (with Cuba’s cooperation) and the U.S. Treasury Department were able to settle on an arrangement that would allow Team Cuba to participate.
As USA Today columnist Hal Bodley noted in 2006: “Having a world baseball tournament without Cuba is like putting on a major league season without the New York Yankees.”
Other nations which in the event were the United States, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Japan, Chinese Taipei, South Korea, the People’s Republic of China, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Australia and Italy.
Teams had a roster of 30 players, with a minimum of 13 pitchers – each to be limited to 65, 80 and 95 pitches in the first, second and third rounds of the tournament.
Cuban defectors playing big league and professional baseball did not compete for Team Cuba. At one point when Cuba’s participation seemed unsure, MLB stated it may have invited alternate nations to compete or included a team of Cuban expatriates in the WBC.
Cuba impressed the baseball world once again at the I WBC when it won the toughest pool in the tournament, defeating both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic on the way to the final against a superb team from Japan.
Cuban defeated the Dominican Republic 3-1, in an exciting semi-final game.
It lost to Japan 10-6 in the championship game at Petco Park in San Diego following a brilliant pitching performace by Daisuke Matsuzaka, who would later sign with the Boston Red Sox.
Cuban outfielder and DH’s Yoandry Garlobo and Osmani Urrutia hit .480 and .345 respectively during the tournament.
Pitcher Yadel Marti made the All-Tournament team with Garlobo and Team Cuba second baseman Yulieski Gourriel, who hit .303 with 2 HR and 6 RBI.
Team Cuba’s left fielder summed up his team’s performance.
"What Cuba has shown to the world is not only that we could play up to par with other major leaguers," said Frederich Cepeda. "We are not professional, we are amateur. We don't get paid for doing this. We deserve a high place in baseball because we do this with sacrifice, with human value and courage and sportsmanship, and because we give our utmost in order to come to the field and show what good baseball is all about."
The Team Cuba arrived home greeted as victors by the Cuban people as ten of thousands lined the roads from Jose Marti Airport to Havana City and a celebration at the Ciudad Deportiva.
Following the tournament, the Cuban Baseball Federation offered to be a host nation for future WBC’s.
The second World Baseball Classic got underway in March, 2009, with Team Cuba as one of the tournament’s favourites.
Cuba started the II WBC in Mexico in Pool B with the host nation, Australia, and South African.
Pool C has Canada, Italy, the USA and Venezuela. Pool A has defending WBC champ Japan, China, Chinese Taipai and South Korea. And Pool D has South Africa, the Dominican Republic, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico.