MLB needs to build on the success of the World Baseball Classic. A Baseball Champions League does just that.
It’s safe to say that the 2023 World Baseball Classic was a huge success, despite what some old, fun-hating, possibly racist cranks on the Internet have to say about it.
When Shohei Ohtani struck out Mike Trout to end the final on Tuesday, 97.4% of Japanese televisions were tuned in. TV ratings broke records in Taiwan, Korea, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. The WBC broke attendance records as well, drawing 1,010,999 fans in the first round — a 98% increase over the previous record. If the objective was to grow the sport around the world, the WBC knocked it out of the park.
But baseball shouldn’t stop there. Why not capitalize on this success and continue efforts to make the game more global?
We’ve seen it in basketball already. Two players from Serbia and Greece (Nikola Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo) account for the last four NBA MVPs. Bringing the world’s best to the 1992 Olympics grew basketball around the world and inspired a new generation of players.
And so, introducing the Baseball Champions League, an annual event in addition to or expanding on the already successful Caribbean Series. Since 1949, the Caribbean Series has taken the champions of countries like Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, and current guest Curacao, and pitted them against each other in a winter tournament that’s somehow even more raucous and passionate than the WBC. MLB is already acknowledging the Caribbean Series’ power, bringing it to Miami’s Loan Depot Park in 2024.
Let’s take the Caribbean Series winner and add in an MLB team — either the World Series champs, the World Series loser, or the team that finished with MLB’s best record. Then, let’s make it global by bringing the top teams from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, Korea’s KBO, Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League, the Italian Baseball League, the Dutch Baseball League (Honkbal Hoofdklasse), and the Australian Baseball League.
The biggest complication to the Baseball Champions League may be timing. Holding it in the winter and adding it to the existing Caribbean Series would be difficult for teams participating in the offseason as rosters change. Also, certain MLB players already compete on other Caribbean Series clubs. But those are minor issues that shouldn’t prevent this from happening. Holding games throughout the season, like in world football, would make it tough because of the travel, but having one centralized location for games in a tournament during All-Star week could be a compromise if the winter isn’t feasible.
To those who say that an MLB team would be too dominant in this format, know that anything can happen in a uber-competitive tournament like this. It’s how Mexico made the WBC semifinals, while the Dominican Republic and Korea didn’t survive the first round. MLB’s dominance would also lessen as the sport grows globally and more athletes gravitate toward baseball.
Highlighting the contrasting styles of top teams from around the world would be fascinating and build upon the WBC’s undeniable momentum. We’d get to discover top players from foreign leagues, building their brands in the process and inspiring kids in Australia, Taiwan, Italy, and elsewhere who get to see their favorite club players take on the best teams on the planet.
Baseball needs to think big to keep growing, and a Champions League format would accomplish just that. Let’s make it happen.
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