The World Cup is an important global event in which the US usually plays a very peripheral role. That was certainly the case this year as the US made it out of their group but lost in the Round of 16. The World Cup inevitably draws contrasts between soccer's global even universal popularity and the American people's stubborn preference for baseball. This is, of course, a false contrast as baseball is popular in much East Asia, the Caribbean and increasingly in a few other countries besides the US. Soccer, while the world's most popular sport, has failed to catch on in many parts of South Asia and is one of several popular sports in Australia, parts of East Asia and North America.
The WBC is far from perfect, with occasionally uneven play and many of the game's best players deciding to concentrate on spring training rather than the tournament, but it is also a lot of fun for many people and an opportunity to highlight one of baseball's biggest accomplishments in recent years. Selig has gotten a lot of things wrong, but should be recognized for getting this one right.
In addition to the question of whether Braden or Rodriguez is at fault, the incident also raises another question about the unwritten rules. Implicit in the notion of unwritten rules is that there are one set of unwritten rules which all players should understand. However, as the game becomes more international this assumption seems unlikely to hold up. Just as the language and expressions used in baseball vary regionally and nationally, it is likely that these unwritten rules will as well. For example, the policy of not stealing with a big lead dates back to a time when a five or six run lead seemed insurmountable. Countries where baseball has been introduced recently, during a period of stronger offense, may not view a five or six run lead as insurmountable and may view it as fine to steal in that situation. Similarly, places where baseball has not been played as long may have different views of brushing back hitters because they do not have the traditions of brushback pitches which were common in baseball until recent decades.
The reality that these types of programs have rarely had a significant impact on resolving territorial disputes has not appeared to daunt proponents of the shared economic venture as path to peace approach. These programs have generally had a marginal effect as conflicts have either endured in spite of these programs, or more frequently these programs have failed to get off the ground because the conflict and rancor between the groups. It is clear that, for example, joint Palestinian-Israeli tourism ventures could generate needed income, or cooperation liberalized trade zones involving Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh would help the economy of the South Caucasus, but even though the west supports programs to do these types of things, the underlying problems are more enduring. The China-Taiwan case is an interesting example of a conflict where trade has expanded substantially in recent years, but the tensions between the two polities remains quite strong with both sides retaining strong militaries and the threat of war breaking out no less significant, despite the economic ties
This has been a very interesting week or so for U.S. China relations. During this time, internet censorship, the Dalai Lama, Iran, and arms sales to Taiwan have been at the center of the interaction between the two countries. It seems the relationship has come quite a distance since the fall when President Obama traveled to Asia and outlined the import of China to the U.S.
The Olympic decision seems to have come right as international baseball is approaching a tipping point. In the next few years Major League Baseball will likely become more international as more countries are represented at the Major League level, thus building greater fan bases outside the U.S. and contributing the growth in popularity of the baseball globally, and the WBC specifically. The inner workings of the IOC on questions like this are something of a mystery to me, but they made a mistake this time and placed themselves firmly behind the curve with regards to baseball’s international popularity.