Doug Klein

The Zionist’s Guide to The World Baseball Classic

The Zionist’s Guide is back.  We have moved on from the World Cup and arrived at the World Baseball Classic (“WBC”).  In doing so, we have traded in our yellow cards and our flopping for some chewing tobacco and a little conspicuous public scratching.

Before we delve into the teams participating in the upcoming edition of the WBC (beginning March 7th on a cable access channel near you), we must point out a few observations about the competition itself.

First off, the only people who really care about the WBC are fans of international baseball (hereinafter referred to as “Fans of International Baseball”).  The Zionist Guide would encourage its reader(s) to go out and locate some Fans of International Baseball.  Before setting out on the quest, though, one may feel free to continue reading this column.

Based on previous experience with the WBC (especially with regard to the exploits of the Israel Baseball Team at the 2017 edition and at the 2020 Olympics), it is readily apparent that American baseball fans simply do not care about the event.  Even American Jewish baseball fans display only slightly more interest in the proceedings.  How else can one explain the Zionist’s Guide’s experience of awakening at 4 AM to watch Israel take on host South Korea in the 2017 World Baseball Classic opener, witnessing a 10 inning, 2-1 nail biter victory for Israel, and then attempting to breathlessly related the experience to the so-called baseball fans at morning minyan in Skokie, Illinois–only to be met with dull expressions of apathy and disinterest.  “Huh?” was a common response from MLB aficionados during those heady days of March 2017.

Baseball is an American sport.  The very mention of its name conjures images of The Bambino swinging for the fences, Cool Papa Bell tearing around the base paths, and Kevin Costner sitting on Susan Sarandon’s front porch, amongst others.  For American fans of baseball, there is only American baseball.  The rest of the world is an utter irrelevancy.  It is as if American baseball fans were all graduate students of John Mearshimer.  From the perspective of this world view, the USA should obviously win the WBC  and do so without expending much effort.  Even if the USA fails to triumph, it is of little consequence to these fans.

A second “knock” on the WBC concerns the Israel Baseball Team.  Baseball fans in general, American Jews, and even Israeli sports fans are routinely dismissive of the Israel Baseball Team.  The refrain goes something like this:  “They are just a bunch of American Jewish minor leaguers who couldn’t make it in the bigs.”  Aside from disrespecting the drama and dedication of these players’ efforts, this attitude is simply wrongheaded.  The larger landscape of international sports is rife with athletes with the potential to represent multiple nations.  The players on the roster of the Israel Baseball Team are not unique in this regard.

To analogize to American college football, players deep on the depth chart at large powerhouse programs will routinely transfer to other schools where they have a chance to start.  This occurs not only in football, but in every collegiate sport, all across the NCAA.

Similarly, world class athletes seek out opportunities to compete for whatever country they can find where they can claim an ancestral or other connection.  At the last Olympics, Myles Amine, an All-American wrestler from the University of Michigan (and born in Dearborn, MI), won a bronze medal for the tiny Most Serene Republic of San Marino.  How did that come to be?  Amine’s maternal great-grandfather was once a citizen of San Marino.  I mean, duh.

Another example:  Yunus Musah, an American soccer midfielder.  He was born to Ghanian parents in New York City; lived until he was 9 in Italy; and then lived in the United Kingdom.  Consequently, Musah had the potential to compete for four different national sides.  Every American soccer fan celebrated his eventual choice to represent the USA.  There was no squawking that he really wasn’t an American.

Sticking with soccer, less than half of the roster of the Moroccan team, which was widely celebrated as they finished fourth in the recent World Cup, was actually born in Morocco.  Players born in Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain formed the bulk of the squad.  No one denigrated their efforts because they were not all native-born.

Likewise, no one should be carping that the Israel Baseball Team consists largely of American Jews.  In the context of international athletics, they belong as much as anyone does.  Their predicament is not at all unique, and their accomplishments should be celebrated as much as any international sports squad.  In sum, the kvetchers should shut up and chew their tobacco.

Stay tuned in the coming days for in-depth breakdowns of each of the four groups of nations–twenty in all–competing in the WBC.

About the Author
Doug Klein is an attorney in Chicago and the wrestling coach at Ida Crown Jewish Academy.
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