Before it gets somewhat somber here, happy baseball season! This is the third consecutive season we’ve had to wonder if and when there’d be MLB baseball around but, again, it endures as it always seems to do (sans 1994).
The devastation stemming from Russia’s assault on Ukraine is being witnessed worldwide. Incidents such as this should offer some perspective for those of us fortunate enough to rank baseball among our greatest concerns in life. In consideration of the events taking place in eastern Europe, we offer the international baseball community (more specifically, the World Baseball Softball Confederation, aka the WBSC) a proposition:
Invite Ukraine to qualify for the World Baseball Classic. Why not?
NOTE: The following argument in favor of bringing in Ukraine to compete for a chance at the WBC should be prefaced by noting that Ukraine will not be in the qualifying round for the 2023 WBC – those spots are going to the clubs originally scheduled to play in the canceled 2021 WBC. Qualification for the 2023 WBC begins in September of this 2022.
Putting aside any arguments of morality or courtesy, the Ukrainian National Baseball team currently sits 29th in the WBSC men’s baseball rankings (World Baseball Softball Confederation, 2021). That places them above three teams invited to the 2023 WBC Qualifiers – Pakistan (31) , the Philippines (36), and New Zealand (46). On the basis of rank and only rank, Ukraine is well within the realm of the qualifier competition.
VIDEO: Highlights of Ukraine vs Greece from the 2021 European Championship
The WBSC (in partnership with MLB) recently expanded the WBC to include 20 teams. Where Ukraine is at a disadvantage stems from the wide body of WBC participants (including qualifiers) from the WBSC’s Europe Region, including the Netherlands, Italy, Israel (geographically not Europe, but they are by WBSC standards), France, Germany, Great Britain, the Czech Republic, and Spain. The 20-team WBC field extends to 28 when qualifier participants are included. It could already be argued that the inclusion of 8 teams from a relatively weak European region is a discredit to the WBC (with the exception of the Netherlands and Israel [though the latter is a recent development, whereas the Dutch have a history of talented players despite baseball’s limited popularity in the country]). Is it terribly prudent to add ninth club?
Well, right now that answer could be yes. Since 2012, Ukraine has climbed from 48th in the WBSC World Rankings to 29th – only nine teams have climbed higher in that time, and only one, Israel (20), is ranked higher than Ukraine (Israel went from 74th in 2012 to 20th in the most recent WBSC rankings…wow!). If and when they take the field again, members of the Ukrainian National Baseball Team should still be ranked among the top 30 national teams. Enduring this conflict and its aftermath will be more challenging than anything they could face on the baseball field.
Sure, they would probably fail to qualify even if they were given the opportunity. But that isn’t the point. The WBSC in association with MLB can do the right thing and grow the game at the same time.
Again – why not?