An American No-Show: USA’s Disappointing World Baseball Classic Roster

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Team USA is a perennial powerhouse in international competition in almost every sport. Since the inclusion of professionals in the Olympics,  the U.S. Men’s basketball team has won five golds in six Olympics.  However, baseball, “America’s pastime,” is much less dominated by America on the world stage. Why is this? Almost 450 of the 750 Major League Baseball players are from America, including seven of the last 10 MLB Most Valuable Players. So, a Team USA lineup should look like a dream team all-star lineup. The problem is, unlike basketball, very few of the game’s top players agree to play in the tournament.

Baseball is a sport which relies heavily on small muscles. Throwing overhand, a motion unnatural to the human body, uses and damages muscles in the shoulder and rotator cuff such as the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis muscles. Major League pitchers count pitches and innings, and health concerns are carefully monitored. So players, pitchers especially, do not want to injure themselves playing in a tournament which is much less meaningful to them than the real major league season.

The pitching rotation of Team USA consists of three starting pitchers. While the United States is the country of origin to fourteen superstar starting pitchers, including Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Cole Hamels, David Price, and  Matt Cain, all but three declined the invitation to be a part of Team USA . The financial risk of career-derailing injury in a meaningless tournament is too strong a disincentive for most pitchers. Other U.S. decliners include rising superstars Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.

Team USA could, and should, be a perennial powerhouse in international competition. However, due to the low percentage of participation by the MLB stars that would provide them this dominance, they have yet to medal in the World Baseball Classic and won just one gold in Olympic baseball. The heavy reliance on small shoulder muscles makes injury a high-risk by playing in this tournament before the start of spring training, especially for pitchers. For this reason, the game’s top stars decline invitation to the World Baseball Classic.



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