TEMPE, Ariz. - Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig defended the World Baseball Classic Saturday, calling the event the “necessary and critical first step” to making the game international.
Addressing the media during the Colorado Rockies’ spring training game against the Los Angeles Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium, Selig said he believes in the event despite the criticism it has received — the loudest coming from New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. “During my commissionership, there’s been more change than ever before. And I found the same reluctance, the same skepticism, whether it was the wild card or revenue sharing or interleague play or all the other big changes,” he said. “There’s always resistance to change, and in baseball there’s hyper-resistance. Any time you do anything different, there will be people who object to it.” Much of the criticism has stemmed from the timing of the event — during spring training — and the fear that players could get injured within weeks of opening day. The Classic started Friday and runs through March 20. “I’ve had general managers tell me, ‘Don’t think about November,’” Selig said. “‘Guys are worn out, 22 teams out of the 30 are gone on Sept. 30, what are you going to do with them six weeks later? They’re gone. They’re out of shape.’” As for the concern that players might get injured, Selig said, “What? Guys don’t get hurt in spring training? I had one (player) tell me, ‘I’ve seen guys get hurt walking down the street.’” Colorado has eight players from its major league camp involved in the Classic, including All-Star closer Brian Fuentes (United States), starting pitchers Jeff Francis (Canada) and Byung-Hyun Kim (Canada) and outfielder/cleanup hitter Matt Holliday (U.S.). Both Fuentes and Francis said they tweaked their offseason workouts slightly — starting to throw off the pitcher’s mound earlier — in order to prepare for the WBC. “I think the biggest worry people have is that it lengthens the season,” Francis said earlier this week before leaving Rockies camp in Tucson to join Team Canada. “So there’s no telling right now how that will affect pitchers. We’ll just have to wait until September or October.” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle put a mostly positive spin on his players’ absences. “We hope they all do well,” he said Friday. “We keep our fingers crossed that they all come back to us healthy. We’ll anxiously await their return, but we’re proud of them, we’re happy for them.” Selig also spoke Saturday about the Washington Nationals’ ownership situation. “Whenever we get a (stadium) lease done, I’m ready to move,” he said. “We have eight groups poised, waiting to buy.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0365 or firstname.lastname@example.org