Baseball Toaster The Griddle
A place where a man can slow down to a walk and live his life full measure, but he has to keep his watch on Pacific Time.
Frozen Toast
Google Search
The Griddle

02  01 

12  11  10  09  08  07 
06  05  04  03  02  01 

12  11  10  09  08  07 
06  05  04  03  02  01 

12  11  10  09  08  07 
06  05  04  03  02  01 

12  10  07 
06  05  04  03 
Suggestions, comments, ring the catcher's interference alarm?

Email me at

The stuff I keep track of
Random Game Callbacks

Select a date:

Personal favorites that I wrote
Another big event that got off to a slow start
2006-01-20 08:00
by Bob Timmermann

With the possibility that the World Baseball Classic may be an international sporting event that never gets off the ground, it may be interesting to look back to check for parallels to the biggest international sporting event in the world, soccer's World Cup. For all the hubbub surrounding that event, the first World Cup, in 1930, was lucky to ever get started.

The World Cup was started mainly because the Olympic soccer tournament wasn't popular with many countries for a variety of reasons, but having a strictly amateur tournament wasn't going to be popular when the sport's best players were professionals. Uruguay had won the gold medal in 1924 in Paris and 1928 in Amsterdam and when FIFA (the international soccer federation) decided to hold its own international championship outside of the Olympics, Uruguay was given the nod to be the host for the first tournament in 1930. The announcement of this tournament in 1929 was not covered in the NY Times.

Now it may seem strange that a sport that was widely popular in Europe would hold its first signature event in a small country that was not easy to get to, but Uruguay in the 1920s was no banana republic. The country had a stable government and a large middle class, boosted by a large influx of immigrants from Europe. 1930 would also be the centennial of Uruguay's independence and the country promised to build a new stadium to host the event. (Exhibit A for the case of "Things are the Same All Over".)

Uruguay was awarded the World Cup in May of 1929. As most students of history know, the world changed drastically between May of 1929 and July of 1930 (when the World Cup was to start).

It was hard to find countries that wanted to come to Uruguay during the throes of the Great Depression. Suddenly, a voyage to Uruguay became a very expensive endeavor. Over all, 13 nations would send teams to Uruguay to compete. There was no qualifying. Nations were invited. They were: Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, France, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Romania, United States, Yugoslavia, and host Uruguay. The four European teams didn't commit until two months before the tournament started when they worked out a deal to share a steamer to take them to Uruguay. So the first tournament featured seven South American teams, four European teams, and two North American teams.

One problem the teams faced was that the brand new stadium in Montevideo, Centenario, wasn't quite brand new. It wasn't finished. So for the first match of the World Cup on July 13, 1930, France and Mexico played at a club stadium called Pocitos. Before an estimated crowd of 1,000, France prevailed 4-1. A little later in the day at Parque Central before a crowd of 10,000, the United States surprised Belgium, 3-0 behind two goals by Bart McGhee. The U.S. would beat Paraguay 3-0 in its other game and win a spot in the semifinals for the first and last time in its history. Against Paraguay, Fall River's Bert Patenaude may or may not have scored the first hat trick in World Cup play. Officially, Patenaude is credited with two goals and Thomas Florie is credited with the third, but most soccer historians credit Patenaude with all three goals. However, there were just 800 spectators and no one was filming the game, so the truth will never be known.

Centenario would finally be ready to go on July 18 and Uruguay satisfied 70,000 of its home fans with a 1-0 win over Peru. Uruguay would win its group with a 4-0 win over Romania before 80,000 fans three days later. Argentina and Yugoslavia would win the other two groups.

The semifinals were held at Centenario and the first one matched up the U.S. and Argentina. The Argentines led 1-0 at halftime, but after the break the floodgates opened and Argentina routed the Americans 6-1. The next day, Uruguay beat Yugoslavia by an identical score. In the final on July 30, Uruguay fought back from a 2-1 halftime deficit to win the championship 4-2.

With the sketchy coverage of the tournament (American papers ran 2-3 paragraph summaries of games from the AP), there is still a debate if the U.S. and Yugoslavia played a consolation game. For those who believe there was one, Yugoslavia won it 3-1, but according to FIFA, the game didn't occur or count.

One would think that a world championship that involved very little of the world (England didn't play in the World Cup until 1950 because, well, they were England and it just wasn't done) participated. But four years later, the World Cup wisely moved to Europe and Italy won on its home soil and repeated in 1938 in France. Then World War II came and international soccer went into hibernation. But the World Cup returned in 1950 and it went back to Brazil where the home team was a huge favorite, but in the final before over 150,000 fans at Maracana Stadium, Brazil, which just needed a tie to win the championship, lost 2-1 to Uruguay.

So can you draw parallels between the hiccups in the development of the World Cup and the hiccups in the development of the World Baseball Classic, or was this just an attempt by me to get people to read about soccer. Well, it's a little of both. Clearly, the world of 2006 is not like the world in 1930. Communications is the big difference. In 1930 hardly anyone outside of Uruguay had any chance to follow the matches. In 2006, baseball fans in America will be able to watch games from Asia and Puerto Rico with ease. But soccer has had a long history, dating back before 1930, of international play. And international play is a constant presence in the sport of soccer. In baseball, international play for most people means having to stand for two anthems when the Toronto Blue Jays are playing.

No baseball player in North America (with the possible exception of some Cubans) has grown up thinking "I want to play baseball for the U.S.A.!" But in soccer, that has often been the way to consider the game. Also soccer's tournament is run by FIFA, which, despite its incredible levels of corruption, is still an acknowledged international sports authority. The WBC is being run by MLB along with the pro leagues in Japan and Korea and the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) has enough trouble keeping its website up to date and has gotten its sport booted out of the Olympics.

What are the chances for the WBC to become a highly regarded international sporting event? I don't think they're great. The soccer World Cup succeeds because the greatest players in the sport are going all out for their country. And the country that wins really cares (multiply that by about 10,000 to get the appropriate level of caring). If the U.S. goes on to win the WBC, it will likely mean nothing to most Americans. The WBC would likely benefit more if the Dominican Republic or Venezuela won. Americans seem to care about such events only after they lose (see Olympic basketball or the Ryder Cup.) But let's wait and see if the event even takes place. But it's more likely that the WBC will end up being an afterthought rather than something people talk about 76 years later.


2006-01-20 00:08:39
1.   Mark T.R. Donohue
Bob: Please write about soccer all you want. That will make me feel more comfortable about posting lengthy paeans to Sami Hyypia on my own site.

But, Liverpool fanboyness aside, informative piece. I feel much the same about the WBC -- if the players don't really hold it in high regard, I don't see why the fans should.

2006-01-20 00:10:21
2.   Bob Timmermann

Just wanted to give Bert Patenaude his due.

2006-01-20 08:48:52
3.   Ali Nagib
I think it's not really fair to compare the WBC to the soccer World Cup...even in 1930, there were way more countries playing soccer, both on a national and international level, than there are playing baseball in 2006. I think comparing it to the Cricket World Cup is much better, given that the number of countries playing is about the same (10-20 versus 200 or so playing soccer). The Cricket World Cup didn't even get started until 1975 and just started gaining traction in the 1990's. Now it's not paid much attention to in non-cricketting countries, but in England, India, South Africa, etc., it's a big deal.

The problem with baseball is that, at the moment, no one pays any attention to USA baseball in any capacity, let alone a World Cup situation. Part of the problem, I believe, is a lack of promotion of exhibition matches (or friendlies) which do exist, but are basically ignored. Did you know that the professional Team USA (made up of minor leaguers) played 8 different countries (plus PR) in "World Cup Play" in the Netherlands in September? Or that the "national team" (of college players) played a dozen or so games in July? I sure didn't. Part of the reason is that A) no one cares that much about college baseball players outside the draft and the CWS and B) all the games took place during the MLB season.

Why not think outside the box a little here. The problem with playing any international games from April-September is that the MLB schedule is unforgiving as far as guys getting time off. In soccer, a guy can play for his club team one week and the national team the next without much trouble. So why not play the games in the off-season? Since they'd be exhibitions, you wouldn't have to get the "best" talent for each game, and you could rotate players in and out as you want. Maybe some guys would rather play a series of friendlies in Tampa against Australia in January than playing in the Winter leagues or sitting home. Prospects and young players could get some exposure on a national stage, and older players could drive up their prices on the free agent market by playing 4 or 5 games a winter. Besides, I know if I could watch baseball January, I wouldn't care that it was Shawn Estes starting against Italy in San Juan.

Once you've built up interest in international baseball on an exhibition level, it would be that much easier to gain support for the WBC, both from the players and fans. Get people used to the idea of rooting for team USA every year, instead of just once every 4.

2006-01-20 09:16:59
4.   Penarol1916
Pocitos is a very nice place to play a game, even if it is in front of just 1,000, right on the beach, and supposedly it was a very nice little stadium. 1934 and 1938 World Cups were just as illigitimate as many consider the 1930 due to the fact that the two best countries in the world at the time were not playing, rather than just one of the two in 1930 since Uruguay had already proved itself better than Italy during that time period and the Uruguay was undefeated in the World Cup until the semifinals in 1954 and only lost then because Obdulio Varela was viciously injured by those dirty English players the game before and was one of 3 key players to miss the semi-finals against Hungary.
2006-01-20 09:35:38
5.   Bob Timmermann
Actually I think the pre World War II World Cups were about as legitimate as they could be considering the times.

Those competitions were over fast:
1934's stared on May 27 and finished on June 10. In 1938 it started on June 9 and finished on June 19. But those two weren't round robin, they were just single elimination.

2006-01-20 19:12:56
6.   Zak
Great piece Bob. Really enjoyed reading it. Couple of notes though..

Uruguay was host of the first World Cup because of two main reasons. One, they were Olympic champions in 1924 and 1928 and thus thought by FIFA to be appropriate hosts. Two, and most importantly, no other team volunteered to host the event. I think this may have significantly tilted the balance in Uruguay's favor.

I agree with Ali about the baseball WBC being comparable to the cricket World Cup in 1975 rather than the soccer WC. But I always do like a good soccer piece. For what it's worth, I do not think that the baseball world championships will be even half as popular as the cricket world cup is right now. England, Australia, the West Indies, parts of Africa and the Indian subcontinent absolutely stop functioning if their teams are involved in late stage World Cup cricket matches. The WBC has a way to go to generate such a passionate following for this event.

2006-01-20 21:12:02
7.   Bob Timmermann
Thanks Zak. I obviously didn't write the comprehensive piece on the 1930 World Cup, but I've found the way the event started to be interesting.

I also discovered that when I looked through U.S. newspapers of the late 1920s that sports columnists weren't as hostile toward soccer as they are today. I don't know why so many fans of both soccer and baseball see the two sports as being diametrically opposed to each other.

2006-01-21 09:42:55
8.   Penarol1916
7. They probably weren't so hostile because there weren't all of these soccer fans in the US saying that soccer was going to blow away the sports these columnists loved to cover, hearing that in the '70's and '80's must have made a lot of those curmudgeon's pretty hostile towards the sport and love to write columns about how it has failed to happen.
2006-01-21 15:44:54
9.   Bob Timmermann
I don't see why everything about soccer or any other sport's popularity is why it has to be viewed as a zero-sum game. People can have choices in sporting events.

What I don't get is people complaining that some sports, like soccer (both for men and women) and women's basketball are being "forced upon" people. They aren't being forced. They are being played and shown on TV. You don't have to watch (and a lot of people don't). It doesn't make the games themselves inferior.

However, I think the Bill Simmons style of writing is going to make it hard for any sport to break into the football/baseball/basketball mix.

2006-01-22 20:32:27
10.   Gary Garland
That was an interesting piece. Nice work.

Baseball, with the exception of Japan and Taiwan, is almost totally a western hemisphere sport (even in Korea, there are only, according to one of the Korean papers, about 55 high schools in the entire country with baseball programs; in fact, when I was living there, I never saw any kids playing baseball. They were all playing soccer) and doesn't have the broad international appeal of soccer.

I don't think that MLB particularly cares if anyone here in the states sees the WBC. I mean, has a tv deal been cut yet for the U.S. rights to the tournament? Not that I know of. Or if there is a deal in place, MLB has done a piss poor job of publicizing it.

Rather, it is about promoting MLB, not baseball itself, abroad. The Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, etc, will be using MLB players almost exclusively. Thus it isn't about baseball in those countries per se, just the guys who have made it to MLB. That is even true with Taiwan's team. Only Korea and Japan will field majority non-MLB player squads.

The WBC has generated much more heat in terms of anticipation overseas than it has in the U.S. because most of those countries have inferiority complexes vis a vis the U.S. It is like how the U.S. used to feel about its hockey programs against that of the Russians or just the overall sense of competition, period with the Soviet sphere during the cold war.

Inevitably, Japan, Korea, etc will lose. The upside for MLB is that it sends the message that if you want to see the best baseball in the world, you watch MLB.

Look, MLB doesn't care that it can't get the biennial Japan-MLB all star series on tv in the U.S. despite the fact that it would aquaint the American public with the Japanese players who aren't already in MLB, which would make a baseball world cup more compelling to watch on the tube. I know thye don't care because a public relations flack for MLB has told me so.

So if MLB is apathetic about laying the public relations groundwork for a WBC in the U.S. by getting a series pitting two of the world's most prominent baseball powers against each other, among other things, then what do you think they believe their chances are of upstaging March Madness are with the WBC? In short, none.

Rather, they want people in the Japanese, Korea and the Chinese speaking world to get aquainted with MLB to ensure deeper market penetration. In the meantime, they are conceding the U.S. market to the NFL and, to a lesser extent, college basketball.

By the way, I hope that I'm wrong about all this. But at this point, this is how it appears to me.

Comment status: comments have been closed. Baseball Toaster is now out of business.