MODERNERABASEBALL.COM, Home Of Joe Connor's Annually-Updated Electronic Ballpark Guides Since 2001!

Special Commentary Series

Home Sweet Home
Buy Joe's Guides
About Joe's Guides
About/Contact Joe
Father's Day Contest
About the Dedication
Buyer Testimonials
'12 AZ Spring Training
'12 FLA Spring Training
Best NCAA Ballparks
MLB Ballpark Trips
Minor League Ballparks
Indy League Ballparks
College Summer Lgs.
AK: The Last Frontier
Best Baseball Museums
2012 Caribbean Series
Special Series
European Feast
Sultans Of Swing
Under Construction



Publish date of series, 2/12/09. For a non-columned version of the series, visit: What do you think of this special series? E-mail [email protected] to give your opinion.


The year 2009 will prove to be a defining moment for international baseball. Soon, 16 countries will compete in the second-ever World Baseball Classic (WBC) while this summer, the 38th Baseball World Cup will be held throughout the continent, serving as a prelude to the October vote by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on whether to reinstate baseball for the 2016 Games. While one hopes the IOC will come to its senses, that’s a best case scenario and the worldwide baseball community must brace itself for a worse case scenario: never participating in the Olympics ever again.


Joe Connor, a freelance writer who has visited more than 30 baseball countries on six continents, and written about his travels for and, among others, presents a special, four-part commentary series on how to better grow the game of baseball around the world in the next 10 years. He’s the author of "A Fan's Guide To The World Baseball Classic," which is available for purchase exclusively at the Buy Joe's Guides page.


PART ONE (at left below): Why adding at least two non-MLB professional teams to MLB Spring Training, starting in 2010, will help grow the game

PART TWO (at right below): How to welcome more countries to future World Baseball Classic events with qualifying rounds while also rescheduling part of the event to enhance the game’s marketability

PART THREE (at left below, beneath part one): Where and why MLB regular season games should be played outside North America on a consistent basis, and how MLB players on their last legs could compete every summer on a worldwide barnstorming tour team to market the game

PART FOUR (below, highlighted, beneath parts 1-3): Why MLB must make international expansion a priority - and how to do it by 2020

PART ONE: Why adding at least two non-MLB professional teams to MLB Spring Training, starting in 2010, will help grow the game


Part One Story Highlights:

  • MLB faces a scheduling challenge in 2010 Spring Training, with an odd-number of teams participating in both Arizona and Florida
  • Invite at least two non-MLB professional teams from outside North America to compete in 2010 Spring Training to even out the schedule
  • Adding two non-MLB teams would serve as a test case for MLB global expansion

With Spring Training upon us, and the start of the second World Baseball Classic fast approaching, there’s also a challenge going on behind the scenes that the suits on Park Avenue are trying to address that could reek havoc when MLB  players report in February next season. And no, it’s not more steroid allegations surfacing (although, of course, that could likely happen, too).


In 2010, for the first time in years, there will be an odd number of teams participating in Arizona and Florida for Spring Training, as a result of the Reds exiting Florida after this spring to start a new chapter in the Grand Canyon State. Instead of an even number of teams competing in both states as is currently, there will be 15 teams each in 2010. And what that really means - absent a ridiculous amount of split-squad games - is that MLB has a potential scheduling nightmare on its hands with at least one team off every day during Spring Training next season. That reality isn’t likely to fly with MLB owners, front office personnel or fans that make their annual pilgrimage, nor does such a scenario serve the general purpose of Spring Training, which is daily player development. Occasionally, college teams play one exhibition game early in Spring Training against MLB teams but NCAA rules prohibit schools from increasing their schedule, so that X’s out academia as a viable solution to balancing the 2010 scheduling playing field.


But MLB’s potential scheduling pain could be also be its potential international - gain. There’s no secret MLB is trying to grow the game globally, hence, the World Baseball Classic. So why not even the playing field in 2010 in both Arizona and Florida by inviting at least two - if not more - professional teams outside North America to compete in Spring Training? After all, do you remember who won the Grapefruit or Cactus League title last year? Neither do I. That’s because Spring Training is not as much about wins and loses as it is about player development. And what better way to develop players than to have them compete every day, even if it’s against some of the best players from Asia or elsewhere.




Why not invite the 2009 winners of Japan and Korea’s pro league to train and compete in MLB Spring Training in 2010, or a team from Taiwan’s pro league or China’s? At least one team could train in Vero Beach or Sarasota. Florida, one or both whose Spring Training facility could be vacant (the Dodgers left Vero Beach after last spring; the Reds leave Sarasota after this spring). And at least one other team could train at Tucson Electric Park in Arizona, and share that facility with the Diamondbacks, as the White Sox did through 2008.


Such a scenario could be a win-win for all parties. The international teams invited to participate could offer Spring Training packages to their fans. MLB could also market the teams’ invitation to the Asian-American communities in the U.S. And cities like Vero Beach or Sarasota and Tucson - hurt by the Spring Training departures (or impending exits) of the Dodgers, Reds and White Sox respectively - could reap tourist income. The facilities in Vero Beach, Sarasota and Tucson meet MLB Spring Training facility standards and could easily handle a pro team of up to 60 players. In fact, in the past, Vero Beach has welcomed teams from Japan, Korea and Taiwan.




Will fans not attend a Spring Training game if the Hanshin Tigers or Kia Tigers are playing against the Washington Nationals? About as likely they wouldn’t attend a Spring Training game between the Nationals and Detroit Tigers. Exhibition games are exhibition games, and as long as they’re competitive, Spring Training fans will attend. In 2006 Spring Training, the Royals hosted Team Korea before the second round of the WBC, and other WBC teams in Florida and Arizona have played WBC teams, so the concept of foreign teams competing against MLB teams in exhibition games is certainly nothing new.


If anything, adding two teams to MLB Spring Training will be an asset, opening the eyes of new baseball fans to all the worldwide baseball talent that is out there and the different style of play and game preparation from other cultures. After all, the outcome of the World Baseball Classic proved as such, with Japan, Korea, Cuba and the Dominican Republic advancing to the semi-finals and the likes of the U.S., Venezuela and Puerto Rico conspicuously absent.


Also, having foreign clubs compete in Spring Training would serve as a mini-experiment - or better yet, perhaps a genuine test case - as to whether expanding MLB by two or more teams in the future to markets outside North America is actually feasible. In some quarters, it’s already happening on a small scale with the Los Angeles Dodgers welcoming two Mexican League teams to play at Dodger Stadium this season while the independent Golden League is reviving its efforts at a cross-border success story by rekindling its relationship in putting a team in Tijuana across the border with San Diego.


Now, many of you will laugh at the very suggestion, but who’s to say that in 10 to 15 years we won’t have an MLB team in Tokyo, Mexico, or heck, even somewhere in Europe, especially if airplanes can fly twice as fast as they do now, and might run on alternative-fuel friendly biodiesel? Think about it, folks. If companies have already started marketing trips to outer space for the weekend, it’s not terribly loopy to suggest MLB could add at least two teams in the future, with an American League West team in Tokyo and American League Central team in Mexico City or Monterrey, Mexico. And don’t tell me the suits on Manhattan’s Park Avenue haven’t at least though about global expansion. Lord knows you won’t hear the union, the Major League Players Association (MLBPA), complaining about adding two or more teams (and, hence, more jobs). If there’s money to be made, anything is a possibility.


Joe Connor is a freelance writer who has visited more than 30 baseball countries on six continents and written about his travels for and, among others. He’s the author of "A Fan's Guide To The World Baseball Classic," which is available for purchase exclusively at the Buy Joe's Guides page.

PART THREE: Where and why MLB regular season games should be played abroad on a consistent basis, and how MLB players on their last legs could compete every summer on a global barnstorming tour team


Part Three Story Highlights:

  • Play two MLB regular series annually in two foreign different markets starting in 2011 and continuing for eight years
  • Encourage MLB players at the end of their careers without a contract to join an annual spring and summer “barnstorming tour,” playing pro and amateur teams in Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, South America and elsewhere
  • Only way to truly grow the game is by bringing the game’s best to the masses

MLB, MLBPA and the IBAF need to do more than simply coordinate the WBC every four years. In its leadership role as the sports’ premier competition, MLB needs to take its game abroad by hosting regular season games on multiple continents. This effort needs to be strategic, choosing only select large markets and cosmopolitan cities that also have the facilities that could host the games. Also, the events would have to have a financial benefit to MLB and the host cities. Additionally, MLB will have to work in concert with MLBPA to balance its regular schedule so teams traveling overseas to compete in select regular season games aren’t at a distinct disadvantage as other teams.


But the opportunities for outstanding exposure - and, as a result, baseball growth globally - could be enormous. MLB has done a tremendous job with its Envoy Coaches Program, sending former MLB players turned teachers to parts of the world like Italy, Germany, Russia, Czech Republic, Poland, South Africa and several other destinations in Europe, Africa and Latin America to grow baseball. But that only reaches a small group of hardcore players and baseball fanatics - it doesn’t impact the culture like bringing the game to the masses would.


My suggestion would be for MLB to begin having at least four teams play a three-game series abroad starting in 2011, or 2010 if it can be arranged. I’m not talking about the usual suspects either, like Japan, which has hosted multiple MLB regular season games, or even Mexico, which hosted the Padres and Rockies for a regular season game in 1999.


MLB may see immediate dollar signs playing games in Japan, but for the long-term health of the sport, it ought to save places where baseball is the number one sport for future WBC venues, like the Dominican Republic, for example. Baseball can’t get more popular in Venezuela or Cuba either because - I’ve been on the ground, there - it’s already so much a part of the cultural fabric of these and a few other countries. But if baseball is to grow elsewhere in South America, south of Venezuela, and throughout Europe and Africa, it needs to literally take the game to the masses.


What if MLB and the MLBPA jointly announced a plan to play two regular season series in 16 different international cities over eight years? Now, that would get worldwide attention, just from the announcement itself. Soccer stadiums and cricket grounds from South Africa to Brazil and Australia to Germany could be converted into an MLB three-day weekend regular season series and “Fan Fest.” Bring baseball celebrities along for the ride to sign autographs and take pictures with fans during pre-game to expand the game’s base. I’m talking everyone from baseball movie star and super fan Kevin Costner to the loveable Tommy Lasorda to the game’s multitude of international Hall-of-Fame caliber gentlemen, like Hank Aaron (US), Sadahuru Oh (Japan), Juan Marichal (Dominican), Rodney Carew (Panama), Luis Aparicio (Venezuela), Orlando Cepeda (Puerto Rico), Dennis Martinez (Nicaragua), Omar Linares (Cuba), Bert Blyleven (Netherlands), Fernando Valenzuela (Mexico) and Ferguson Jenkins (Canada), among others. MLB can bring its Fan Fest outside the gates, as it has already done in many cities. Each MLB would make at least one trip abroad over this seven-year period.


South Africa will host the 2010 soccer World Cup, but in 2011 fans could be blown away if Cape Town’s Newlands Cricket Ground - with views of majestic Table Mountain - could be converted into a baseball mecca. That same year, MLB could bring the grand old game to a soccer stadium in Berlin, once a dividing line of the Cold War, where the sport was played back in the 1936 Olympics there.


In 2012, bring the game in South America and play a regular season series at Rio de Janeiro’s gigantic soccer shrine, Marcana Stadium, while also play a series at Sydney’s Cricket Ground or in Melbourne, Australia, both with world-class facilities.


In 2013, fresh off another successful WBC, bring a regular season series back to Europe, playing in Paris or Rome or at London’s Wembley Stadium and then another at the symbolic former bastion of hard-core communism - Moscow.




Back in the day, baseball legends like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig barnstormed across the world, playing games. With MLB going through a youth movement, many of its veteran ballplayers - in their twilight of their careers - are struggling to find work. What better way for MLB, in concert with the MLBPA, to employ them as ambassadors of the game than by playing on a traveling global MLB barnstorming team each spring and summer?


This club could play games on six continents against the likes of pro teams in Korea, Taiwan and China in Asia, and against top amateur clubs in Australia, Africa, Europe, North America and South America. They could not only play games, but also teach and put on clinics, as part of their contractual obligations. The talent level of these MLB players would make the players they are competing against better. Furthermore, the fans in these non-MLB markets would get a chance to see a high-caliber of play in intimate settings, from soccer and cricket fields converted to baseball diamonds to small ballparks. Local and country federations could make money off the games, as well.


The MLB players, out of an MLB job, would be happy to not only have work but to extend their career by a year or two and be welcomed by fans across the globe. While there MLB careers might be over, by playing, they could get noticed by scouts in other pro leagues to extend their career a little bit longer. Players could also bring along their family members, as they play baseball in Italy, South Africa, Australia, Brazil, China and elsewhere. Can you imagine how much of a positive impact this would have on the global growth of baseball, if say a Ken Griffey Jr. decided to barnstorm one year?




Look, as fans, we have to be realistic. Baseball will never be the No. 1 sport in Africa or Europe, or even in many parts of Latin America and Asia. Why? That’s because in most parts of the world, baseball has been never part of the cultural fabric. Soccer is the world’s most popular sport and is ingrained in the culture of many countries - just as baseball has been for years in places like Cuba and the Dominican Republic. But just because baseball will never be the world’s No. 1 sport doesn’t mean the game can’t achieve a true global reach and become a popular “niche sport” anywhere, much like alternative sports such as skateboarding and motocross, among others, have become in the U.S. And the one way - the only way - you truly penetrate a populace is bringing your product to them. In this case, taking the great game of MLB to the masses.


Joe Connor is a freelance writer who has visited more than 30 baseball countries on six continents and written about his travels for and, among others. He’s the author of "A Fan's Guide To The World Baseball Classic," which is available for purchase exclusively at the Buy Joe's Guides page.

PART TWO: How to welcome more countries to future World Baseball Classic events with qualifying rounds while also rescheduling part of the event to enhance the game’s marketability


Part Two Story Highlights:

  • Three worst teams in 2009 World Baseball Classic compete in 2013 qualifying tournaments
  • Three different qualifying tournaments on three different continents for three 2013 WBC spots
  • Move part of 2013 WBC to July as part of “Elite 8 World Baseball Classic Week”

The year 2009 will prove to be a defining moment for international baseball. Soon, 16 countries will compete in the second-ever World Baseball Classic (WBC) while this summer, the 38th Baseball World Cup will be held throughout the continent, serving as a prelude to the October vote by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on whether to reinstate baseball for the 2016 Games. While one hopes the IOC will come to its senses, that’s a best case scenario and the worldwide baseball community must brace itself for a worse case scenario: never participating in the Olympics ever again.


It’s imperative that Major League Baseball (MLB), the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), the International Amateur Baseball Federation (IBAF) - and baseball fans across the world - maximize the exposure of this year’s events to demonstrate that the sport is indeed a global game with a long-term vision that highlights: 1. it has become all-inclusive, and 2. has an innovative growth strategy moving forward.




To that end, MLB, MLBPA and IBAF should start by announcing sometime during the 2009 WBC that the next event, in 2013, will be more all-inclusive.


The WBC has been a 16-country, invitation-only professional-level event since inception, and while the majority of invitees are well-deserved, this concept has snubbed other countries in Europe and the Americas from even getting a chance to participate, most notably Nicaragua where baseball is the number one sport in that country.


You can’t argue with the WBC invitations of the super powers of the sport such as the U.S., Japan, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela and Korea. And you also can’t really argue with the invitations of Taiwan, Panama and Puerto Rico either where baseball is either the No. 1 sport in these countries and/or has a tremendously rich tradition. The Netherlands, with its two Caribbean island hot beds of Aruba and Curacao, would also be hard not to invite. And although hockey and soccer are number one sports respectively in Canada and Mexico, both are deserved of invitations given their long baseball history and contributions to the game.


But inviting China, Australia, Italy and South Africa over a Nicaragua and Colombia just isn’t right. Sure, you don’t need to be a marketing major to understand why MLB has pumped millions in coaching and training into 1.3 billion strong China, trying to find the Yao Ming of baseball. And you have to admire Australia for producing 80 plus MLB Minor Leaguers despite having a population of just 20 million and when its best athletes choose cricket, Australian Rules Football, rugby, golf or tennis over baseball.

You can also understand from an advertising standpoint why MLB is trying to find the Giovanni Pizzeria of Italy and is interested in turning baseball in South Africa into a mini-MLB pipeline like Australia has become. Yet future WBC’s risk losing credibility by continuing to exclude the likes of Nicaragua and Colombia, and other European countries, just because they may not have the “marketing cache.” Fortunately, there have already been some hints from MLB that the 2013 format will be expanded to 24 teams with possibly qualifying rounds, and indeed that’s the one thing that must definitely happen - some sort of a qualifying tournament.


I think most fans would agree that the WBC - while a great event - shouldn’t be any longer (a few weeks) than its current set-up, especially given it has taken place during MLB Spring Training. Do eight more countries deserve the right to make the “Round of 16?” Absolutely - and perhaps even more than that. Does the main event need to be expanded beyond 16 teams? Absolutely not - a few weeks are plenty.




But there need to be some sort of qualification process. My suggestion would be for the three teams with the worst record in the 2009 WBC (I’m guessing China, Italy, South Africa, or either Australia, Taiwan or the Netherlands) would have to earn their place in a 2013 WBC. Why not have three quasi-continental qualifiers - one in the Americas; one in Europe; and the final one encompassing Africa, Asia and Oceania? The governing amateur bodies of each continent, in cooperation with MLB, MLBPA and IBAF, could determine the set-up of each qualifier, with six-to-eight of the historically top teams in each geographic region competing. The winner of each of these three tournaments would then land spots 14, 15 and 16 in a 2013 WBC. Assuming a March 2013 WBC, the qualifying tournaments could be held on each continent(s) sometime from late September to early November of 2012, enabling those players competing in pro leagues in Asia or U.S. Minor League or independent leagues to have a chance to go home and participate.


The benefits of this idea ensure that multiple countries from multiple continents have at least an opportunity to land one of three spots in the WBC. And isn’t that the point of baseball’s global growth strategy - to grow the game in as many places as possible? What better way to do that then to motivate the “unsung countries” with at least a chance to earn a coveted WBC bid?


Think about the possibilities. Brazil, with a dozen players signed to MLB contracts (albeit, minor league ones), would have a chance to compete for one WBC bid against the likes of Nicaragua and Colombia in the Americas qualifier. No two countries deserve the right to compete in the WBC more than Nicaragua and Colombia and it’s an utter travesty they’ve been excluded in the invitation-only WBC up to this point. Nicaragua and Colombia boast winter leagues and each has a long, rich baseball history. Baseball is the most popular sport in Nicaragua, and the fans are almost as fanatical as the Cubans and Dominicans - trust me, I’ve been there, I know. Along Colombia’s Caribbean Sea Coast, no sport rivals baseball. The likes of Spain, Germany, France, Sweden and Britain, among others, would have an opportunity to compete for one separate WBC berth in a European qualifier. As for the Africa/Asia/Oceania qualifier, this leads me toward my second point made at the outset: getting innovative.




MLB, MLBPA and the IBAF also need to be realistic with their global growth goals. It’s why I have long advocated for the African continent, in particular, to be comprised of an “All-African All-Star team” instead of seeing South Africa get pummeled, as it did in two of three 2006 WBC games. Let’s face it: there are few givens in life, but here’s one of them: South Africa will finish no higher than 14th in the 2009 WBC. Now, I have nothing personal against the country or its baseball program. In fact, it’s one of the most beautiful and diverse lands in the world that I’ve been fortunate to visit and there baseball has markedly improved. But why let talented athletes from Uganda, Nigeria and Ghana, among other African nations, sit on the sidelines when the entire continent could have a collective All-Star team?


The MLB International European Academy has trained players from multiple African nations, and since pretty much all countries on the continent, minus South Africa, lack funding to manage their own national teams anyway, this would seem to be the best option. Plus, why try to grow the game in one country - South Africa - when you could grow the game on the entire African continent? (This “All-Star team” concept might also be applied to Eastern European countries, which, as a whole, lag in player development behind many of their wealthier Western European counterparts. An Eastern European All-Star team could boast the top players from as far west as Austria and as far east as Russia, including top players from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Croatia, Romania, Greece and elsewhere).


So under my scenario for an Africa/Asia/Oceania qualifier, you could have an All-African All-Star team compete against, potentially, China, Australia or Taiwan (assuming the high likelihood that at least one to three of these teams will finish in the bottom three in the 2009 WBC). Other countries that could potentially participate in the qualifier are Israel, or perhaps even a “Southeast Asian All-Star team” with players from the likes of the Philippines, or an “Oceania All-Star team” with athletes from Guam, New Zealand or even Australia.


Some might cringe at the fact that a ‘continental All-Star team’ takes away from the very spirit of international competition, but I beg to differ. MLB, MLBPA and IBAF may get a big dose of reality this October from the IOC, and let’s also not forget what one of the underlying purposes of the WBC - to grow the sport abroad in as many places as possible.


Additionally, ask yourself this: what has fundamentally changed since the inaugural WBC in 2006? Answer: not much. Is baseball more popular abroad as a whole? Answer: no. In individual countries? Answer: Well, yes, perhaps, but only in those countries that participated in the inaugural ‘06 WBC. So with more countries given the chance to participate, it would seem to me the growth of the game would therefore increase in more places, which leads me to my final critical point.




MLB, MLBPA and IBAF need to seriously consider rescheduling the next WBC in 2013 to maximize its true potential. Too many MLB players and front office personnel bemoan the fact that the WBC takes place in March during its Spring Training, and they have some valid points. Asking pitchers, in particular, who haven’t thrown competitively in several months, to all of the sudden go full speed - may not risk injury in the short-term - but there’s certainly some evidence of adverse affects in the long-term. For example, in 2006, pitcher Jake Peavy suffered arm soreness in that year’s MLB season and he was not the same performer as he had been the year prior for the San Diego Padres.


But worst of all, a March WBC has caused the best players not to participate and represent their country. What a shame. It’s why Ryan Dempster won’t pitch for Canada and why American stars like Joe Mauer have declined. Also missing in WBC action have been the likes of Manny Ramirez (Dominican Republic), Mariano Rivera (Panama) and Hideki Matsui (Japan), among many other stars. Chan Ho-Park won’t pitch for Korea in the March 2009 WBC either. Lastly, March isn’t favorable because it forces baseball to compete against multiple sports for fan and sponsor exposure. In the U.S. alone, the WBC in March is up against professional basketball and hockey, to say nothing about the highly-popular men’s college basketball tournament - the equivalent in popularity of the World Cup soccer tournament outside America (e.g., in most parts of the world).


Solution? I recommend the 2013 WBC be split up in three parts. Part one would be the qualifying tournaments, as previously mentioned. Part two would be round one of the “Sweet 16” or main tournament, and would still take place in March during Spring Training as a double-elimination, four-pool format, as the 2009 WBC will. But that would be it - for March 2013 WBC play.


The winners of first round play - eight countries - wouldn’t compete again until mid-July 2013 as part of the “Elite 8 World Baseball Classic Week.” Under this scenario, all professional leagues with countries participating in the “Elite 8,” such as Japan, Korea and MLB (U.S.), would stop their season for only one week so the countries could participate in a double-elimination tournament to determine the 2013 WBC champion.


The benefits of this scenario are multiple. For starters, on the international sports stage and particularly in the U.S. in July, there are few other major competing sports or events, and therefore it would garner most of the worldwide sports attention, or at least the attention of the eight participating countries. In short, assuming the likelihood baseball is never reinstated in the Olympics, this “Elite 8 World Baseball Classic Week” would be baseball’s new version of the Olympics. The baseball world would stop everything else it is doing for one week every four years for this signature event.


All of the game’s greats - from all over the world - could throw out a first pitch over the course of “Elite 8 Week.” Hank Aaron from the U.S. Sadaharu Oh from Japan. Juan Marichal from the Dominican Republic. Luis Aparicio from Venezuela. Rodney Carew from Panama. Omar Linares from Cuba. Ferguson Jenkins from Canada. And on and on.


The other benefit is that all participants would be in prime playing form, having been playing competitively for months. Lastly, a double-elimination format could take place over a week, therefore not drastically disturbing the regular season schedule of MLB and professional leagues in Japan, Korea or elsewhere. And it could be held at one ballpark.


Also worth noting, chances are greater than the best players will play for their country, not wishing to be left out of the biggest professional spectacle of the sport, outside the MLB World Series. Additionally, with only one round taking place during Spring Training in March 2013, MLB players - as well as their bosses, MLB owners and General Managers - would breathe easier knowing the risk of injury during WBC play would be reduced with only one round of March play. Furthermore, baseball fans across the world would be ensured of seeing a riveting tournament in the heart of summer (in most parts of the world) representing the top eight nations.


Downsides to July? MLB, Japan, Korea and other pro league seasons in WBC years would have to be expanded, and some fans of each league will complain that one week of their season “on hold” is too much. MLB would likely cancel its annual All-Star Game during WBC years, which means, uh, oh, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig will have to find a new way to “award” home-field advantage for that season’s World Series (here’s a smart suggestion, Bud: the team with the best MLB regular season record in 2013 gets home field).




It isn’t the Olympics, it’s called the ‘World Baseball Classic, with the emphasis on the ‘world,’ and the only way for the game to realistically grow big time across the globe is for more players and more countries to be allowed to participate, and for the game to think big in extending its reach across this place we call planet earth. This is the year and this is the time for amateur baseball federations around the globe, as well as fans everywhere, to join together in strongly pushing MLB, MLBPA and IBAF for a 2013 WBC qualifying tournament and for pushing a one-week extravaganza in the middle of the summer of 2013.


Joe Connor is a freelance writer who has visited more than 30 baseball countries on six continents and written about his travels for and, among others. He’s the author of "A Fan's Guide To The World Baseball Classic," which is available for purchase exclusively at the Buy Joe's Guides page.

PART FOUR: Why MLB must make international expansion a priority - and how to do it by 2020
Part Four Story Highlights:
• By 2020, if not before, MLB must make international expansion a priority
• Pro leagues in Japan and elsewhere lose best players to MLB and are suffering
• Expand MLB by two to six foreign markets; make Japan’s pro league as a Triple-A affiliate of an expanded MLB
If MLB, MLBPA and the IBAF play their cards right in maximizing the World Baseball Classics in 2013 and 2017, and MLB consistently hosts two regular season series games over eight years in 16 different non-North American international cities over eight years, starting in 2011 and ending in 2018, I’m convinced that by 2020, MLB could have at least two, or as many as six, successful international markets.
By now, MLB has to understand why this necessary. And I’m not just talking about dollars and cents - but also the cultural identity of the nations that have been impacted by the game’s growth to date. Take Japan, for example. MLB has been taking away Japan’s best players since Ichiro Suzuki made a splash with the Seattle Mariners and the resulting effects is that Japan, and other pro leagues in Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere, have been hurting, with some even on life support.
A dramatic solution must be reached. It’s called global MLB expansion, with some of these countries maintaining their own pro league’s historical sovereignty by being affiliated with the MLB-affiliated Minor Leagues. Because at the end of the day, MLB knows the success of the sport is only as good as the success it achieves globally, not just among its 30 teams.
So here’s my suggestions: Expand MLB by adding six international markets - two teams based in Japan - by 2020, with one based in Tokyo and the other in Osaka (also add MLB teams in Mexico City; Monterrey, Mexico; London, England; and Berlin, Germany). In the 2019 MLB expansion draft, give the six new MLB clubs exclusive negotiating rights for a window of time to sign players from their country (e.g., the two teams based in Japan would have first dibs to sign Japanese-born talent playing in Japan pro baseball in its last independent, non-MLB affiliated season of 2019).
Also by 2020, make the professional Japanese teams part of MLB-affiliated Minor League Baseball, as part of an expanded level of Triple-A.
Japanese fans would be happy because not only would they get a chance to see homegrown talent in an expanded MLB, but they’d also have a farm system (Triple-A) to see their homegrown upcoming prospects. Most importantly, Japan’s homegrown talent wouldn’t be “leaving” since this new Triple-A level would feature all of Japan’s existing 12 professional teams.
Also, the Japanese would maintain their sovereignty as a professional league with this new Triple-A still hosting the annual Japan Series, pitting the best team in the Central League against the best team in the Pacific League. Fans would still be able to have an attachment to their team like they have for years, such as the Yomiuri Giants, yet also see players that leave that club and “move up” to compete on one of the two new expansion Japan-based MLB teams, or on one of the other 34 teams that visit Japan during the MLB regular season.
MLB would be happy because it will have achieved its “global reach.” The MLB player association would be happy because more MLB teams equal more job opportunities. Japan’s pro league and its teams would be happy because there best players can be seen by their fans. Japan’s baseball player association would be happy because the number of teams wouldn’t shrink and salaries at Triple-A affiliation could be higher than their current salaries. This same concept might also work to help foster stability in Korea’s and/or Taiwan’s pro league.
This idea is crazy to most, but how off the wall is it really?
“We want to train players like the majors are looking for and (see them) perform well over there. That's kind of our goal,” Nippon Ham General Manager Masao Yamada, of Japan’s pro league, told’s Jim Caple in 2008.
Downsides to my idea? The fluctuating price of fuel will scare many, to say nothing about jet lag. But by 2020, who’s to say, airplanes don’t fly twice as fast as they do today - and on alternative fuel-friendly biodiesel? Others will complain that with six more teams, the MLB talent base will be diluted. I disagree. By 2020, the success of the WBC will show just how many talented players there are internationally that deserve a shot at MLB. Still others will complain about the broadcast of live games at abnormal hours. Big deal, I say. In this technological age of the Internet and TIVO - and the techno age 10 years from now - this won’t even be an issue.
Of course, the last - and biggest issue of all - would be MLB owners complaining about realigning the divisions. An expanded MLB by 2020, with six teams each in six divisions, would look like this, based on geography in my view:
American League East: Boston, New York, Baltimore, Tampa (London, Berlin expansion teams)
American League Central: Detroit, Minnesota, Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City (Mexico City, Mexico expansion team)
American League West: Seattle, Anaheim, Oakland, Texas, Arizona (Osaka, Japan expansion team)
National League East: Mets, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Florida (by then Miami), Washington, Toronto
National League Central: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis (Monterrey, Mexico expansion team)
National League West: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Houston, Colorado (Tokyo expansion team)
Under this scenario, five of the six divisions would absorb one of the expansion teams, with American League East taking two. Only three current MLB teams would have to realign, with Toronto moving to the National League East (where the Montreal Expos once roamed); Arizona to the American League West (its original aspiration back in the 1990s during expansion); and Houston would replace Arizona and go back to its old haunts in the National League West. To make traveling fair, the schedule would be mapped out in such a way that each club would be traveling approximately the same amount of flying miles per season.
Again, it may sound crazy. But something has to change.
When MLB’s Red Sox and A’s played regular season games in Japan in March 2008, it happened at the same time Japan’s pro league had started, infuriating many Japan pro league players - and certainly sending the wrong signal.
So why not invite the Japanese other countries to the party and make MLB truly global? At least non-baseball fans will never able to then question the meaning of the word, “World Series.”

Since 2001, Home of Joe Connor's Highly-Acclaimed Ballpark Guides!