A True Classic: The 2023 WBC

The 2023 World Baseball Classic was an incredible event.

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On Tuesday, March 21, Shohei Ohtani struck out Mike Trout to win Japan the fifth World Baseball Classic (WBC) in history. The final had all the makings of a classic: two star-studded lineups, a tight scoreline, and, of course, the matchup between Ohtani and Trout. The two are teammates for the Los Angeles Angels and are widely considered to be two of the best in the sport. So, when Ohtani struck Trout out on a disgusting slider and subsequently hoisted the WBC trophy above his head, the crowd of 36,000 erupted, elated to have witnessed one of the greatest baseball games of all time.

The final game was a reflection of the whole event––a glorious two weeks of competitive games and unbelievable moments. Look into why the 2023 WBC was one of the best tournaments ever.

The Stars

The WBC always features superstars. Certain countries, including the U.S., have faced criticism for the lack of participation from their top players. While many countries in the Caribbean and Japan have frequently presented their best players, the U.S. struggles to recruit their stars. The elite players cite their various concerns, namely the WBC being too close to the start of the season and the risk of injury being too high. However, the U.S. finally presented a quality roster in 2017, and, while there was room for improvement, the team managed to win the tournament. Trout, absent for the 2017 squad, saw the team and decided he wanted to play. He was eventually named as the captain of the 2023 squad. With Trout came Mookie Betts, Dodgers’ outfielder and six-time All-Star. The two were joined by the Cardinals’ Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt––the latter being the reigning National League MVP––both returning from the 2017 team. All four players convinced others to play, leading to a superb team. The final roster included three MVPs and too many All-Stars to count.

In addition to the U.S. roster, countries around the world brought their best players to shine on the biggest stage in 2023. Ohtani pitched for Japan, Joc Pederson played for Israel, and Xander Bogaerts and Didi Gregorius played for the Netherlands. Venezuela featured José Altuve and Andrés Gimenéz, and Puerto Rico boasted 2017 WBC MVP Marcus Stroman and Francisco Lindor. Finally, the tournament-favorite Dominican Republic recruited stars Wander Franco, Jeremy Peña, Manny Machado, Juan Soto, and Julio Rodriguez.

The sheer amount of talent participating in the WBC was astounding; no team was without its star players. This pulled fans to the tournament, making it one of the biggest sports events in recent history.

The Storylines

The WBC had many incredible storylines, the most wholesome of which being the Czech Republic team’s formation. Unlike many of the other countries, the Czech Republic didn’t include any professional players. Everyone on the team had a day job, such as being an electrician or a middle-school teacher. While the Czechs didn’t make it past the group stage, they pulled off a win against China to secure their qualification for the 2027 WBC. Ohtani respected the Czech team so much that he wore a Czech hat to the finals, which instantly caused the hat to sell out in all sizes worldwide. While the Czech Republic didn’t make it far, they did set themselves up for success in future years, despite their lack of experience.

The next wild occurrence was in the final game of Pool D, a match between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to decide which country would advance to the elimination rounds. The rivalry between the teams was in full force, and though Puerto Rico ultimately won and knocked the heavily favored Dominican Republic out, the game was a perfectly posed moment.

In elimination rounds, Trea Turner hit a grand slam in the U.S.’s matchup against Venezuela to send the U.S. to the semifinals, while Mexico narrowly eliminated Puerto Rico.

In Mexico’s semifinal game against Japan, Mexico led by one run going into the ninth inning due to a spectacular offensive and defensive performance by Randy Arozarena, who robbed a home run in deep left field. But in the bottom of the ninth inning, Munetaka Murakami hit a walk-off two-run double to left-center field to send Japan to the final. After the game, Mexico’s manager Benji Gil said, “Japan moves on, but the world of baseball won tonight.”

After stomping Cuba in the semifinals, the U.S. advanced to face Japan in the final. The scoring was opened up by Turner, who smashed his fifth home run of the tournament and thus tying the WBC record. This lead was quickly erased by a Murakami home run, and Lars Nootbaar drove in another run to put Japan in the lead. Japan would maintain their lead for the rest of the game. Jeff McNeil led off with a walk, but Mookie Betts grounded into a double play to bring Trout to bat. Ohtani struck his teammate out, crowning Japan as the World Baseball Classic champion for a third time.

The World Baseball Classic had a series of spectacular coincidences and remarkable games that resulted in a phenomenal tournament. The luck of game scheduling allowed for maximum drama—underdogs won and favorites lost—and superstars had electric performances for their country. That is what makes the WBC so exciting: the thrill of seeing your favorite players competing not just for themselves but for their country and their identity.

The Successes

The WBC was first held in 2006 after the MLB proposed the idea to improve global recognition and support of baseball. The MLB makes vast amounts of money off merchandise and viewership, so improving international viewership has long been a centerpiece of corporate goals. The WBC started slowly due to competition with other international events such as the Baseball World Cup and the Olympics, but the WBC was always the only one that MLB players could participate in due to union agreements. It was an event for a targeted audience, but the 2017 WBC showed the MLB and the world what it could really be: a baseball version of the World Cup, bringing everyone across the world together.

The 2023 WBC built on this, drawing record viewership numbers. The final averaged 4.5 million viewers, a 69 percent increase from 2017. At the peak of the game, 42.4 percent of Japanese households were tuned in, even though the game was early in the morning in Japan. 

The 2023 World Baseball Classic was a classic in every sense. The event was electric, with close games and major upsets, wholesome moments and fierce rivalries, up-and-coming prospects, and veteran players. The players loved it, the fans loved it, and the world loved it. The 2023 WBC was truly an event for the ages.