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Off Base

That's it! The World Serious!!

March 6, 2006

It’s not that the World Baseball Classic can’t be successful, exactly, and it’s not exactly that the WBC is more a Bud Selig-contrived money-grubbing effort than anything else. Not exactly.

It’s just that the WBC is so obviously manufactured, it’s as if MLB swept the exhibition right up off the NFL’s cutting room floor. Or if Arte Morneo suggested it as a grand example of “branding” the sport to the largest geographic base possible.

The WBC has about as much real momentum behind it as an American luge dweeb….going uphill.

The calendar has a lot to do with it. As much as we love baseball, and as much as the planet’s embracing of “our” game is gratifying, there’s no good time for extraneous major league baseball. Mid-season Olympics-style play is impossible, and lame to even consider. November is out. And March is for madness and Spring Training, with a capital “S” and a capital “T.” Forever and always.

March is a time for optimism and for team, not country. In the end, the WBC is kinda like Interleague play. Neither particularly good nor bad, just unimportant.

The reaction to the WBC from both players and fans is more genuine than the actual event itself, and thoroughly appropriate.

Anyway, it’s been done, and a long time ago. Fifty years ago to be precise. Walter O’Malley’s Brooklyn Dodgers first played an international exhibition series in Japan in October, 1956. The Los Angeles team returned in 1966, and Peter O’Malley brought his version of the club to Japan in 1993. And Japanese teams have trained with the Dodgers at Vero Beach on and off for decades.

The 1966 trip is remembered for leading to the end of Maury Wills’ first go round with the Dodgers. Longtime Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi recalls it this way: “In the fall of 1966, my wife Evit and I were on a cruise. I believe we were about four days out when I received a cable from Walter O'Malley. I remember it to this day. It read: ‘Want Wills off this club immediately. He is an embarrassment to the Dodgers and has showed disrespect to the Japanese nation.’”

“I got in touch with Walter Alston that same day. Walter was not in favor of the trip to Japan, but liked his job. He told me that Maury had jumped the club and was headed home. It was going to be difficult to make a deal for Maury when all the clubs knew we were letting him go for a silly reason. Needless to say, Joe Brown and the Pirates came through and gave us Gene Michael and Bob Bailey for Maury's contract.

As an aside to the Maury Wills story, two days after I received the cable from O'Malley, our ship arrived for an overnight stay in Honolulu. We decided to go ashore for dinner and then take in the Don Ho show, which was the hit show at the time. After dinner, the hotel manager escorted us to the performance. Low and behold, as we entered, Don Ho was on stage, and seated to his left was Maury Wills with his banjo.”

Thanks as always to Mark Langill, Dodgers Publications Editor and Team Historian for his assistance, and the awesome photographs…

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