Major League Baseball has decided to move the World Baseball Classic from next season to 2023, a high-placed source told Sportico Monday. The announcement will officially come sometime after this COVID-abbreviated 60-game season and postseason.
The only international tournament that includes Major League players, played every four years since 2009, was originally slated for next March 9-23, during spring training.
“With everything that’s going on, this is where it is,” according to the source. “All the details haven’t been nailed down yet.”
The tournament qualifiers were about to start in Tucson, Ariz., when baseball was halted on March 12 because of the coronavirus. The 12 teams that had assembled in two brackets were sent scattering back around the world, including Team France, managed by veteran Bruce Bochy, who last year retired from the San Francisco Giants after 25 seasons as a big-league skipper.
“I mean, I felt for those kids,” Bochy said. “They were so excited about starting the tournament, the WBC. They worked hard. A lot of these guys are not doing it for a living. They have jobs back in France or wherever they live. To get that close and have it postponed. Some of them got kind of emotional. They broke down. It was tough.”
A new set of qualifiers will be now staged in 2022.
Originally, the main tournament next year was slated to be played in Japan, Taiwan, Phoenix and Miami, with three rounds to be held at Marlins Park, including the semifinals and championship game. Those are still the probable sites in 2023.
The field was set to expand to 20 teams for the first time, with the 16 teams that competed in 2017 already seeded: Australia, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Israel, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Korea, Mexico, Puerto Rico, U.S., and Venezuela.
Whether the same format will be used in the qualifiers is still to be determined. The qualifiers were played in different parts of the world rather than one place in 2016.
“Everything’s on the table,” the source said. “We’ll look at all types of opportunities, including going back out into the regions.”
The WBC tournament is a joint partnership between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association. It had its inaugural run in 2006 and is heading toward is fifth edition. Japan won the first two titles, followed by the Dominican Republic and then the U.S., which defeated Puerto Rico, 8-0, at Dodger Stadium in ’17.
Team Israel’s performance, going deep into the second round before elimination, was another highlight of the last tournament. It was the greatest success up to that point for Israeli baseball on the world stage.
The final game in 2009, also at Dodger Stadium, when Japanese icon Ichiro Suzuki singled home the winning run in the top of the 10th inning to defeat Korea, is considered one of the greatest international games of all-time.
International stars such as Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka of Japan, and Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes of Cuba, made their imprint on the WBC long before they played for MLB.
In this year’s postponed qualifiers, Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin was back managing Team Brazil. Whether he or Bochy will be there in two years is a real question, as is how many of the same players will return to represent their respective teams.
“Like I’ve said before, I’d never say never about anything,” said Bochy, who at 65 has survived five heart procedures. “I don’t know how you can do that.”