The World Baseball Classic returned after a six-year hiatus, and it came back with some serious pop. Ratings were up, and the excitement surrounding each team was palpable. But for every player who looked as if he was living out his dream, there was a hater spewing on American media. But the WBC attendance numbers have a different take on the matter.
Grumpy Old Man Baseball Takes Are Tired
Keith Olbermann says WBC ?split up teammates based on where their grandmothers got laid,? gets ratioed https://t.co/8zlKJGA1jU pic.twitter.com/ySWxAnmtFa
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) March 16, 2023
Baseball is supposed to be fun. If you played in Little League, you'll remember how exciting it was anytime you took the field. The joy of connecting with a ball, even if you were thrown out, far outweighed not being there. Any yet, every time someone lobbies for change to better the game, it's met with scathing opposition. Sure, change makes the game different from what someone played in 1940, but isn't that a good thing? Shouldn't we be pushing to try to evolve?
The average age of a baseball viewer is like 57 years old. Games are getting longer, and they really become background noise on your TV after a while. Sure, if you're watching your team and you're IN it, it wouldn't feel that way. But I shouldn't be able to have lunch in the first inning and start dinner by the final out because the game has dragged on for so long. Needless to say, critics of change in the game kick and scream over the runner on second in extra innings, the shift, pitch clocks and a cap on pickoff attempts. They also have been yelling at clouds about the World Baseball Classic.
"The timing is terrible!" "These players shouldn't want to play in this game!" "There is too much potential for injury!" "Who cares about an exhibition games?"
The Fans Came Out In Droves, WBC Attendance Explodes
Total WBC attendance:
1,306,414 (47 gms)
2022 MLB total home attendance:
Guardians: 1,295,869 (76 gms)
Royals: 1,277,986 (80 gms)
Pirates: 1,257,458 (81 gms)
Rays: 1,128,127 (81 gms)
Marlins: 907,487 (81 gms)
Athletics: 787,902 (79 gms)
— Nick Zingaro (@nzingaro19) March 22, 2023
Miami is not used to hosting significant baseball games. Aside from a pandemic-shortened season in 2020, you have to go back to 2009 to find the last winning season that Miami experienced. It has only been to the postseason three times and has never won the division. Sure, two of those three times were World Series victories, but it's been 20 years since that last happened. Fast forward to today, and playing for the Marlins must be ... tough. Their total home attendance in 2022 was 907,487. That's good for just over 11,000 fans per game. And that's up from the fewer than 8,000 per game the season before.
And yet, when the World Baseball Classic rolled into town, total attendance at loanDepot Park in Miami was 475,269 — for just 15 games. That's an average attendance of 31,684 per game. I know this is an extreme example, but isn't it a sign that if we're willing to make some changes and go back to the basics — aka fun — attendance will rise and the game could actually shed its old-man skin?
The final at-bat of the WBC saw Shohei Ohtani striking out Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout to give Japan its third WBC win in six attempts. If you watched Trout play throughout this tournament, you saw more joy on his face than I've seen since he made his debut at 19 years old. He's 31 now.
The World Baseball Classic Is Helping Change Baseball
It's honestly absurd to think about how the Marlins — and other teams not in the Northeast or California — are propped up by regional media deals to help placate owners and guarantee money in a game that can't get out of its own way. But what the World Baseball Classic taught us is that it's not actually the game of baseball. It's baseball in the United States. Major League Baseball shot itself in the foot with the creation of the WBC in 2006. And the tournament now is likely to be the reason that MLB will be forced to make more-aggressive updates to America's pastime.
Opponents of the tournament will say: Who cares? It's just an exhibition. Why would these guys want to play for their countries instead of getting in their reps with their team in spring training? And to them I say: Do you watch the World Cup? Well, the answer to that is probably no if you're yelling about baseball. But do you watch the Olympics? Clearly you don't understand the pride in donning your country's colors and going out there to bring something home to the people of your nation.
Viewership for the WBC was incredible. And the tournament brought a joy and excitement that has been largely missing from the game of baseball for years. So while many are shaking their fists at the sky, cursing an injury that happened in post-game, the rest of us are looking forward — excited about what the future of baseball could be.
MORE: Ohtani vs. Trout: Their Epic WBC Championship Face-Off Was the Stuff of Legends
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