heinnews’s David Hein this week has Part Two with his talk with Dr. Harvey W. Schiller, president of the International Baseball Federation. They discussed impact of the Japanese league by Japanese players coming to America; the 2009 World Baseball Classic; an increase in the size and other reforms of the 2013 World Baseball Classic; and the health of baseball around the world.
heinnews: In Major League Baseball, more and more Japanese players are coming over to the States. As some one who is concerned about the health of baseball throughout the world, how do you see this impacting the Japanese game?
Schiller: First of all, baseball has always been an international game. In the early 1900s, it was the immigrants who came from mostly western Europe – from Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Ireland – who played the game. There are more than 30 countries represented by the players. And that’s no different than it is in the NBA. The relationship that the Japanese professional league has with Major League Baseball is superb. They have been very supportive of each other. But we live in a very competitive environment. It’s no different than a top player from Brazil deciding to play soccer in Europe. I think in many times it’s money, in many times it’s opportunity. Of course you know that Mr. (David) Beckham decided to leave Europe and decided to play soccer in the MLS. Fans get upset but we live in a free trade environment and there’s not much you can do. It’s up to the different entities. What I always say is if you provide an environment where people are comfortable they’ll stay. In regards to MLB, the NBA and NHL – those three in particular – the top players want to play against the top competition. And you’re never going to stop that.
heinnews: You mentioned earlier that the Netherlands twice beat the Dominican Republic twice at the 2009 World Baseball Classic. How good was that for baseball?
Schiller: I think it was terrific. We’re a little unusual as a sport. China, which has only been developing the game for the past eight years, defeated Chinese Taipai (Taiwan) twice – once in the Olympics and once in the Classic. Italy defeated Canada and Australia defeated Mexico and Puerto Rico defeated the United States. And of course the Netherlands knocked out the Dominican Republic. Cuba didn’t make to the finals for the first time maybe in our lifetime. So the level of play shows you how the game has developed around the world. I think that’s somewhat unique in baseball. And the other part of baseball is despite the fact that the IOC wants to see stars – and we’ll represent that – it’s a team sport. It’s one player up at bat against nine players. But that one player has to have the support of all the other players or he’s not going to score. It’s not a game of individuals. The saying goes: There’s no I in the word team.
heinnews: Looking back now a few months after at the second edition of the World Baseball Classic, there was plenty of criticism and some praise of the event. What’s your take on the 2009 Classic a few months later?
Schiller: Overall it was a success. If you watched the final game in Los Angeles between Korea and Japan you saw the best of baseball. What it will do, as it has for basketball and other sports, it’ll create more nationalistic feelings from individuals and countries themselves to want to play at that level. No one likes to lose. The players that were on the United States team when they were defeated by the mercy rule said to a person they have never lost their entire lives from Little League on by the mercy rule – even tee-ball. So, they want to come back. Television ratings were good. They were especially, especially good in Korea and Japan and Chinese Taipai and the Netherlands. They were among the highest ratings ever – not just for sports but for any television program in those countries. The amount of Internet traffic was significant and set a new record. The amount of sponsorship and licensing sales set a new record as well. Attendance at more than half of the venues set a new record. It was the first time the first round games were played in other cities. And I think you’ll see more of that in the future.
The question of timing is being discussed. Right now, the only difference I see between now and 2013 are more teams as part of a qualifying tournament. Where we right now have 16 teams I think you will see as many as 32 teams playing into the tournament.
heinnews: Throughout the world there are national team tournaments every year in basketball and soccer. Is that something you see happening – not just every four years – to get players more accustomed to playing at that time of the year?
Schiller: Are you looking at the notes on my desk? The answer to your question is yes. And with all teams. There might be some seeding. Some sports do that. There may be a play-in where the 31st and 32nd teams may have to play more games to work their ways in. We did this at the Olympics as well. In addition to the continental qualifiers there was an overall qualifier that we did afterwards to allow more teams to participate in the Games and effectively that’s how the last three teams were selected. So I think we’ll see some similar things. We’re talking about some Pan-Pacific tournaments, talking about some other post-season tournaments. Both Major League Baseball and the Players Association are anxious to grow the game professionally. There was a release where Major League Baseball is going to help develop a professional league again in Australia. There’s a small professional league that’s going forward in China right now. There are discussions about professional leagues in Europe. Italy has talked about supporting a professional league. They tried a league in Israel. The growth of baseball is moving along almost exponentially. And we’re very pleased with that. Our main target remains building up on the base in Europe and ensuring that there are opportunities throughout Africa and places like that.
heinnews: Looking at the entire picture of baseball worldwide and comparing it to basketball and soccer, how healthy do you see baseball and what things is baseball doing correctly and other things that it can learn from other sports?
Schiller: I think international play is something that’s growing in the minds of all the players. If you take the typical American kid who thinks about playing baseball, they’re not thinking outside the boundaries of the United States. As they get older and find more opportunities through the national federation to play international play and as they see the opportunities that the Olympics may represent, that opens some eyes. There are more than 300 players in MLB who have participated in the Olympic tournaments in the past. That’s a significant number. And they begin to feed the others. Learning from the experience of traveling and so forth it helps not only the growth of the sport but also a better world. That’s probably the biggest thing you learn. You also learn some elements of the game. Look at the way the Japanese play the game. They mimicked the United States for a long time. But if you watched the Classic and see the base-running and the other parts of how they play the game it’s a little different. And I think people learn from that as well.
heinnews: Okay, last question … what other issues are you watching right now and who do you see as the favorites to win the MLB World Series?
Schiller: Well three things: I think there will be an American League champion and a National League champion. And I think one of those will win the World Series. The advantage I have is that I can cheer for whoever the champion. But the disadvantage is that I can’t pick any one team.
One more thing, looking into the future, I think some of the international relations that will help and open up Cuba to more opportunities will be a very positive thing for baseball. And you can say the same thing for a number of other countries as well. I think we all look forward to that politically. As far as the game itself, it’s very healthy. Since I live in New York many people think I root for one of the New York teams. But I root for all of the teams. I also have a love for the college world.
You know what, there are two teams that I actually root for most – my grand-daughter’s tee-ball team and my grand-son’s baseball team. They are six and eight years old, so I want their teams to win.