By Ernie Palladino
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For some reason, the lords of Major League Baseball think the World Baseball Classic is important stuff.
When 16 teams from around the globe begin the March 2-19 competition, a whole bunch of major leaguers will leave their training camps, leave the organizations that pay their many millions-of-dollars paychecks, and risk their hamstrings, wrists, and noggins for, well, some meaningless title.
The Mets will say adios to David Wright as he joins Joe Torre's Team USA, the Yanks to Robbie Cano, who joins the Dominican Republic.
As spring training went full speed ahead over the weekend, there was Wright, the marquee player on an otherwise woeful team, talking about intensifying his early exhibition schedule so he can hit the WBC in optimum condition. Terry Collins and Wright would rather take a more gradual approach, with the third baseman using his at-bats to work on certain facets of his swing. But he can't do that now, and it may all result in a big negative once April and games that really matter begin.
"We talked, agreed, and kind of came to a plan where I'm going to play every other day … and try to get a good handful of at-bats before I go," Wright said. "Nothing that would put me at risk of hurting something because it's so early, but to kind of expedite my schedule."
In other words, rush things along for a star on a team that really shouldn't be rushed.
At least Wright and Cano are position players. For pitchers, the concern of injury and mechanical setbacks is much more of a concern. That's why the Washington Nationals are second-guessing their once-strong support of the WBC. They're losing left-handers Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler, two key starters behind Stephen Strasburg. That's a big cut in the Nationals' spring training roster.
Think Davey Johnson is going to be delighted if either of those two get hurt by a line drive off Cano's bat?
Just to show that support for the WBC is not universal, a lot of folks were either barred from participating by their teams, or simply declined outright. Detroit's Justin Verlander won't be there. Neither will Tampa Bay's David Price, or LA's Clayton Kershaw.
Andy Pettitte thought for a short time about going, but wisely pulled out. The Reds refused to allow their ace, Johnny Cueto, from pitching for the Dominican Republic.
The WBC quite simply is not an important enough concept to disrupt spring training. Catchers have to catch new pitchers. Hitters have to work on their mechanics. Pitchers have to work their arms in gradually. None of that happens when the WBC rolls around. It's all full-speed, all-out.
Meanwhile, every manager who sends representatives to Team USA, Italy, Canada, Korea, the Netherlands -- there are no major leaguers going to Japan this year -- wherever, they'll be back at their camps in Florida and Arizona praying their guys come back in one piece.
It's silly, really. It's not the Olympics which, by the way, voted out baseball and softball for 2012. The WBC doesn't get nearly the viewer interest of the Olympics.
The negatives vastly outweigh the positives. But there's no going back. Wright, Cano, and the rest of their WBC brethren are heading out soon.
If they all get off to slow starts, or worse, get hurt, their managers can blame it on the world.
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