In Phoenix Wednesday night’s World Baseball Classic pool play came to an end with Team USA moving on thanks to a 3-2 victory over Colombia. The biggest news of the day was, though, when Puerto Rico defeated tournament favorite Dominican Republic and Mets/Puerto Rico closer Edwin Diaz injured his knee during the brief celebration that followed. With the injury, it’s probable that Dáz will miss the majority or even the entire 2023 MLB season.
The subsequent social media uproar was expected, understandable, and, in my opinion, at least marginally incorrect.
My apologies in advance to Mets supporters as a fellow baseball lover. This is really bad news for a team and its supporters that are hoping to win the World Series this year. Dáz is one of baseball’s top closers, and the bullpen already appeared to be a little understocked. Any Mets supporter who experiences an emotional reaction and says the World Baseball Classic should be stopped and never played again is not to be blamed, in my opinion.
I can relate. And I disagree. Strongly.
I am aware that whenever a player sustains an injury that is not regarded to be absolutely necessary, someone will freak out and declare the player never should have engaged in the activity in the first place. vehicle accident? Stop driving. Ever. Have you ever slipped when entering a hot tub? Never, ever, ever enter a hot tub. Being hurt while having fun with his children (again, it’s happened!)? AVOID PLAYING WITH YOUR OWN KIDS AT ALL COSTS.
Are those erroneous comparisons? Maybe. I’m certain that all of the WBC critics will concur.
The truth is that injuries do happen to players occasionally. Sometimes it involves shagging baseballs during batting practice, other times it involves separating frozen hamburger patties (yep, that has also happened).
Dáz wasn’t even competing in the WBC anymore in this scenario. The match had ended. With teammates, he was hopping in a circle. Granted, there wouldn’t be any celebrations like that during a spring training game, but athletes do exercises, lift weights, and engage in a variety of other activities where a single errant motion may spell the end of their season. Strange things do occasionally just happen. It’s awful once more, but it’s the way things are.
(On Thursday, the Mets announced that Dáz had a successful patellar tendon repair; he is anticipated to begin his rehabilitation program in about a week.)
That seems like a massive overreaction to want to cancel the entire tournament because a prominent player was injured when it wasn’t even during a game. I’m not even going to get into the entire “the players care” or “the Puerto Rican fans were ecstatic” debate. They don’t actually matter in this discussion. Yet, it should be acknowledged that the players genuinely adore it. On Thursday afternoon, I was in a clubhouse where a middle-of-the-order batter was ranting about how important the WBC is to people all around the world. He was angrily arguing that it is a global issue, not just something that affects Americans. He insisted that almost every non-US teammate he has ever had views the occasion as a significant deal. (He’s the one who also made me think of the Mariano Rivera injury I mentioned before.)
But aside from the fact that the players adore the occasion, I think it’s just a simple matter of aligning the entire “risk” argument.
That is to say, the main defense used against athletes competing in the World Baseball Classic is that there is a “unnecessary harm risk.”
It’s hard to argue with the word unnecessary. The player in the clubhouse on Thursday was convinced that so many players genuinely either adore playing in it or want to, despite the fact that no player needs to play in the WBC, even if he really, really wants to. While they are paid to play Major League Baseball, the players in this league are not. I can see why some people think it’s unneeded. I won’t contest that assertion.
Nonetheless, I will contest the “risk” claim. Playing in the World Baseball Classic carries the same level of danger as participating in spring training or any other routine daily activity. Absolutely none. Again, Daz wasn’t even harmed while playing; even if he had been, it wouldn’t have been any different from a pitcher getting hurt while pitching in a spring training game. While I agree with the claim that he wouldn’t have been celebrating in a spring game, running around has a same risk of damage to jogging in from the bullpen. It was just a rare accident, which regrettably happens.
Every time adversity occurs in life, it is natural for people to strive to come up with a strategy to keep it from happening again. I would say that as a culture, we do it far too frequently, but once more, it is understandable. That is why it was so expected to hear a lot of people argue that the WBC shouldn’t exist and/or that no valuable players should ever compete in it. Yet, awful things do occasionally occur in life, and we should all learn to deal with them instead of attempting to cure what cannot be fixed. The Dáz injury was not brought on by the WBC, just as none of the injuries we’ve previously seen this month were brought on by spring training.
Feel welcome to make the case that the World Baseball Classic should be discontinued, but a rare accident injury that occurred after a game had ended isn’t a compelling reason in my opinion.