Major League Players in the World Baseball Classic: Has it Come to an End?

Patrick Raidt ‘24

Staff Writer

Edwin Diaz Courtesy of The Athletic

The World Baseball Classic is back in 2023 for the first time in six years and the biggest story that has come out of it so far hasn’t been the Dominican Republic superteam not even making it past pool play, or Shohei Ohtani showing why he is one of if not the best player currently in baseball, and it’s not even been Great Britain’s atrocious uniforms. Instead, the topic everyone has been talking about is Mets closer Edwin Diaz and the injury he sustained while celebrating with his team after Puerto Rico clinched a spot in the quarterfinals. 

Clips from this incident show Diaz seething in pain on the ground and grabbing his right knee before eventually being taken off the field in a wheelchair. The New York Mets organization issued a statement shortly after the unfortunate event stating that Diaz would undergo imaging the next day to reveal the extent of his injury. In a follow up statement, the Mets explained the imaging revealed that Diaz had suffered “a full-thickness tear of the patellar tendon in his right knee” and would need to undergo surgery, subsequently ending his 2023 season before it even began. 

Outside of the outpour of well wishes from all around the baseball world hoping for a speedy recovery for Diaz, the general conversation around this incident has centered around one key point: what does this mean for Major League players playing in events like the World Baseball Classic in the future?

The question of if MLB players should compete in the World Baseball Classic was a topic of debate even well before the tournament even began with many citing the risk of injury as one of the main points as to why they should not, and the recent injury to the Mets’ all-star reliever further solidifies their point. They have claimed that the risk is not worth the reward for playing in, what some have called, a “meaningless tournament” that “doesn’t matter”. Those on the other side of the argument however refute this claim by citing injuries sustained during the MLB’s annual Spring Training which, for most Major League players, are truly “meaningless” games. Diaz’s own teammate, Mets CF Brandon Nimmo, sprained both his knee and ankle sliding into second base in a Spring Training game just two days after Diaz’s injury. So does this mean we should cancel all of Spring Training now to keep players from getting injured? According to those against MLB players in the WBC, these are two completely separate situations because, for players who get injured during Spring Training and the like, they are playing for their team, for the organization that pays their salaries, not during what they call “glorified exhibition games”. They make the claim that these teams and owners pay top dollar to get the best players to play for their team only for these players to get injured playing games that don’t matter to the organization.

What many on this side of the argument fail to realize however is that players often play in games like these more than one might think. From Winter Leagues, to the Olympics, and so many other leagues and tournaments that occur throughout the year, most major league players are playing baseball year round because it is what they love to do. As far as the financial argument is concerned, especially in Diaz’s case as he just signed a giant 5-year contract extension with the Mets this past November, most, if not all MLB players, especially those playing in these tournaments, have insurance and precautions in place in the event something like this were to happen, and Diaz is no exception. Just two days after his injury, it was announced that the Mets would be reimbursed for the entirety of Diaz’s entire $15.1 Million 2023 salary removing any financial burden that could have existed for the team. 

With all this being said, what argument do those opposed to MLB players playing in the World Baseball Classic have left? Injury in an inherent risk in any sport and baseball is no exception, and it does not have to be during Spring Training, or even during a game for that matter, as we have seen when former New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera, who is often regarded as the greatest reliever of all time, tore both his ACL and his meniscus while simply shagging fly balls during batting practice before a game in 2012. So not only are players always at risk for injury, and the teams that sign these players are not financially burdened if an unfortunate event such as this were to happen, is the only argument left that the World Baseball Classic doesn’t matter? For us in the United States, we might not view the World Baseball Classic as a top priority given that we have World Series and the MLB, but if you ask anyone in, say, Japan, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, or any other country that has participated in the World Baseball Classic, they will tell you a completely different story. To them, this is the biggest sporting event that has occurred in their lifetime, and for them getting to see their players and their country represented on a world stage playing against the best of the best is an indescribable feeling. Many players too have come out and said that this is the greatest sporting event that they have ever been a part of, with some, including Diaz, saying getting to represent their home country means more to them than the World Series. And with it being reported that 61% of all households in Puerto Rico watched the very same game that Edwin Diaz was injured in, it is clear that the World Baseball Classic does indeed matter.

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