BY KEN DAVIDOFF
March 16, 2006
FULLERTON, Calif. -- This World Baseball Classic has no greater advocate than Chipper Jones. The Atlanta third baseman has spoken repeatedly about his pride in wearing "USA" on his chest.
But as Team USA worked out yesterday at Cal State-Fullerton, not knowing whether it would play another meaningful game in this tournament, Jones offered a couple of suggestions on how to improve this event.
They were major suggestions.
The 1999 National League MVP recommended moving the WBC to November, and he also said the byzantine tiebreaker rules, which he described as "bogus," need to be discarded.
"On November 1, everybody's in shape," Jones said. "There wouldn't be an issue with pitch counts. There wouldn't be an issue with knocking the rust off coming into spring training. Things like that. I think it would be a little bit better tournament. You'd probably see a little more offense and a little more emphasis on starting pitching."
The timing of the WBC has generated the most controversy. The Yankees, and many other clubs that kept their thoughts private, objected that a March schedule forced veteran players to rush their conditioning, playing competitively at a time of year when they usually don't. The shoulder injuries to the Yankees' Johnny Damon and the Cubs' Derrek Lee, neither of whom will start today's second-round finale against Mexico, gives ammunition to the Yankees and others.
Commissioner Bud Selig and the union have argued that no other time of year works. They don't want to break up the season in July, and they fear that too many players would be out of shape and/or out of touch by November.
Jones begs to differ regarding November. "It's a lot easier to stay in shape after a long season with just a month," Jones said. "Rust usually sets in around December, when guys get fat over the holidays. I think it would be less of an adjustment over the end of the season, as opposed to now. Most of the top-flight pitchers are pitching in the playoffs."
Continued Jones: "Especially in my camp, Yankees camp, [veteran players] go out, they get two at-bats the first 10 days of camp, and then they're gone. The intensity, it's not there. We're kind of playing ourselves into shape, hoping to get there by April 1."
The WBC's tiebreaker system, which follows the model for other international baseball tournaments, has vexed Team USA, both in last week's first round and in the second round. The team understood that it was rooting for a South Korea victory over Japan late last night, but barring that, it wanted Japan to score at least eight runs in a nine-inning victory; a low-scoring victory by Japan would have immediately eliminated the U.S. It goes back to the runs allowed - per nine innings - against common opponents among Team USA, Japan and South Korea.
"The tiebreaker is bogus. I don't agree with that," Jones said. "I would change that . . . Knock it down to two flights. Do like a double-elimination thing. Have the winners of the two flights play in San Diego."
In all, however, Jones has greatly enjoyed his WBC experience and would recommend it to those who opted not to participate. He most of all liked being the teammate of Roger Clemens, whom he described as "more like Jesus than I thought."
"He's got worldwide respect," Jones said of Clemens. "He's like EF Hutton. When he speaks, people listen."