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Alou: This is make-or-break year for WBC

Felipe Alou, bemoaning a scarcity of big names in the lineups, says the future of the World Baseball Classic depends on a strong showing this year, as baseball officials fear a half-empty Dodger Stadium for the finals.
Felipe Alou is managing the Dominican Republic team in this year’s World Baseball Classic tournament.

He’s also one of the smarter people in baseball. So for him to declare this year a make-or-break year for the tournament is somewhat of a shocker.

His concerns: the tournament was sold as a showcase for the biggest names in baseball, but the biggest names — Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Ervin Santana, Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan — are sitting this one out behind injuries, some contrived. (Teams can keep players back in the case of an injury or fear of one.) But the defections decimated Alou’s lineup to the point where the Dominicans lost to the Netherlands yesterday.

The Netherlands, led by that well-known Dutchman Sidney Ponson.

Indeed, fans are seeing the likes of Bernie Williams and Moises Alou in the lineups, as most of the top players are sitting it out.

And the lack of big names is hampering attendance. This morning we witnessed South Korea and China square off before a three-quarters empty Tokyo Dome. Games featuring the home team draw well — over 42,000 showed up at Rogers Centre for a key USA/Canada game — but only 9,300 were on hand to see the Netherlands defeat the Dominicans. And, as we reported last week, plenty of good seats remain for the semis and finals.

Jeff Passan writes:

And then there are the semifinal and final rounds in the United States. One baseball official cringed at the thought of “a final with two teams no one in Los Angeles cares about and a half-empty Dodger Stadium.” The enduring image wouldn’t be of big home runs and huge strikeouts so much as an upper deck full of empty green and blue seats.

The fear is real. Already the WBC must overcome its odd timing, its pitch counts, its concerns about injuries, its absurd IBAF rules and the stigma that it is nothing more than a cash grab and can’t develop into more. All of these issues were shoved to the background during the first tournament, because it so exceeded expectations.


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