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  • "We Need to Get the Good Old USA on Board"The 2009 World Baseball Classic, Corporate Nationalism, and Constructions of "American" Identity

The World Baseball Classic (WBC) is a jointly owned operation of Major League Baseball (MLB) and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA).1 It is enmeshed at the intersection of baseball with masculinity, ethnicity, identity, culture and the global corporate economy.2 Scholars have investigated the WBC for its utility as part of MLB's global branding promotional strategy,3 and also analyzed the tournament for its cultural significance.4 This paper seeks to build off literature on the WBC through an exploration of the connections between MLB's promotion and advertising of the 2009 WBC, the US sporting press's coverage of the Classic, and constructions of US-American national identity.5

On March 23, 2009, Team Japan earned their second WBC championship in three years by defeating Team South Korea in a ten-inning contest held in Los Angeles, California. The following night then-host of National Broadcasting Company's (NBC) The Tonight Show Jay Leno joked, "Congratulations to Japan for winning the World Baseball Classic right here in Dodger Stadium. Yeah, they beat Korea 5–3, which is perfect: the Japanese playing the Koreans in a city full of Mexicans to determine who's best at America's pastime."6 On one hand, Leno appears to celebrate the WBC final as reflecting sport, culture, and Los Angeles's cosmopolitanism. On the other hand, however, he segments and categorizes "Americans" into disparate clusters. Notably, he constructs a paradoxical vision of the game as played by "not-Americans" in a city of "not-Americans" to determine who is "best" at something ostensibly and uniquely "American." While played for laughs, Leno's remark parallels a number of anxieties, tensions, and contradictions surrounding the media discourse of the WBC since its inception in 2006.7

One might identify within Leno's observations critical questions that remain largely unresolved during the early decades of the twenty-first century. Who, or what, counts as an "American"? How do immigrants, fluid transnational populations, and decentered multi-, trans-, and supra-national institutions [End Page 116] impact US cities, and how are those locations collectively identified with specific "racial" and ethnic groups? As a commercial venture, how does the WBC signify and magnify the meanings, management, and reconfiguration of the economy in its global capitalist state? Intertwined and inexorably linked with these questions are concerns about the declining status of baseball's self-proclaimed, romantic and symbolic importance in the United States.8

During the early 1900s, Albert Spalding and the Mills Commission provided baseball with the origins of a nostalgic past. Their findings asserted that a Union General by the name of Abner Doubleday invented baseball. Unsubstantiated, this apocryphal claim provided the fundamentally American founding myth they desired to cement the game within a fabled tradition that never truly existed.9 Throughout the twentieth century, baseball represented the supposedly defining American traits of courage, determination, persistence, individual sacrifice, team spirit and virility exemplified by the burgeoning democratic nation.10 Despite this specious creation story, its legend persists as powerful folklore that resonates in the meanings associated with baseball as the United States' national sport.

I argue that the WBC's cosmopolitan flair disturbs and disrupts notions of baseball as the timeless US national pastime. Further, given the triumphs of clubs from Japan, South Korea and Cuba—and the failures of Team USA—the tournament challenges long-standing claims (by fans, MLB, and sport media) of US supremacy in the global hierarchy of baseball. The Classic thus represents a convoluted and fascinating mixture of US baseball's mythology and patriotism and the MLB's construction and mobilization of that myth and narrative for profit maximization. Ultimately, the WBC engenders a rich and varied reception that dislodges the "Americanness" of baseball.

In US lore and pastoral tradition, baseball and MLB are embraced as cultural elements of the nation despite the game's political and economic roots since the earliest stages of its formation in amateur and professional leagues.11 Although fans and media pundits recognize that MLB is a business, they steadfastly ignore and/or criticize MLB's political and economic objectives when those interests clash with baseball's provincialism. As an extension of MLB's business aims, former Commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball International's (MLBI) promotion and advertisement of the WBC deploys and packages baseball's nostalgic tradition in benevolent globalism.

The WBC muddles the relationship between MLB and baseball's mythological past. The conflicts and tensions that emerge when comparing MLB's promotion of the event and its popular reception deserve interrogation and exploration. How does MLB's pursuit of global markets and expansion through the WBC both unsettle and reinforce notions of MLB (US) dominance and cultural [End Page 117] imperialism? Additionally, how does resistance to the WBC exhibited by journalists extend or complicate contemporary understandings of American exceptionalism and ethnocentricity?

baseball rhetorics and mlb as corporate nationalism

The framework for this paper largely derives from Butterworth's notion of "baseball as a rhetorical phenomenon that contributes to the constitution of American interpretations of democracy, citizenship, and nationhood."12 Given baseball's prominence as an American institution, discourses surrounding the game offer a fruitful site for reading and contesting aspects of American culture. In the US, baseball is often interpreted as a national symbol and the "relationship between sports teams and fans is a symbolic metaphor for the relationship between a country and its citizens."13 Viewed this way, fan and media reactions to the WBC can be understood as responses rooted in the dominant cultural beliefs and values that help to constitute American identities and nationhood.

My findings and analyses are further indebted to Silk, Andrews, and Cole's theorization of corporate nationalisms, conceptualized as the shift of influence toward "the manner in which the nation and national identity are… exteriorized through, and internalized within, the promotional strategies of transnational corporations."14 In other words, the nation characterized by political and cultural forces has been supplanted by the corporate-cultural nation of the twenty-first century. Baseball is one of the strongest representational "emotive symbols … and institutions" of United States nationality.15 Economic and political elites employed baseball as a key part of an American popular culture and identity around which rapidly changing and urbanizing populations cohered for a collective sense of self, one that is "mythical, divisive, and exclusionary," but nonetheless "produced, reproduced and spread, appropriated, (re)configured and manifest in discourse."16 Thus the playing, spectating and consuming of baseball became an emblematic part of membership in the United States; to identify with the nation meant to identify with baseball.

As Silk, Andrews, and Cole contend, "global capitalism seeks to—quite literally—capitalize upon the nation as a source of collective identification and differentiation."17 I interrogate MLB and the WBC as pertinent examples of sport and corporate nationalisms and the process of selling national collectivities through representative sport celebrity figures. I align with the imperative of corporate nationalism, as a theoretical construct, to explore the changing (as opposed to withering) of the nation under global corporate capitalism. The unique and unintended convolutions between MLB's promotion of the [End Page 118] 2009 World Baseball Classic and its popular reception contribute to an understanding of the theoretical scope of corporate nationalism, particularly in US contexts. Notably, the tournament illuminates many of the contradictions in preserving US baseball's insular romantic tradition alongside its expanded corporate reach. Journalists' critiques might be interpreted as reflecting tensions between MLB and those fans unwilling to identify as consumer citizens of the WBC.

This paper examines articles from major US newspapers, magazines and sports trade websites in order to assess MLB's promotion of the event and its popular media reception. More specifically, I conducted a search of the term "World Baseball Classic" between January 1, 2007, and April 4, 2009, in the SPORTDiscus database. This search produced hundreds of articles which were organized and analyzed according to their themes, including general reactions to the tournament, the status of baseball in the United States, and the business/marketing aspects of the WBC. Further, in order to analyze and interpret MLB's advertisement and public relations support of the WBC, I collected quotes and references from MLB officials through a search of "World Baseball Classic" from the same time period in the SportsBusiness Journal, SportsBusiness Daily, and the Sports Business Research Network archive. These references were then situated and analyzed according to the major themes identified above.

world baseball classic: narratives, reception and themes

In 2005, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to remove baseball from the Summer Games beginning in 2012. Shortly thereafter, MLB announced its plans for the inaugural WBC to take place in March 2006. The totals for the 39-game event included attendance of 737,112, above-expected television ratings, and net profits in the range of $10 million.18 MLB executives and then-Commissioner Bud Selig touted the tournament as a global success and attributed the domestic response, which ranged from lukewarm at best to outright contempt, to the logistics of promoting and gaining support for something new and different. One of the few benefits of the event, detractors conceded, was its role in expanding MLB's global reach. Mostly though, fans, players, journalists, general managers and owners complained about the tournament's timing and structure, the "heightened" risk for injuries, and obstacles with gaining Cuba and Japan's participation. In one study, less than twenty percent of the stories written about the WBC in major newspapers were actual features of the event; in over forty percent of articles the WBC was briefly mentioned as a side note or in a buried reference. In sum, a confused, pessimistic [End Page 119] view of the event as meaningless underscored the dominant sentiment toward the first WBC.19

On the field, Team USA failed to advance beyond the second round. Despite this letdown the event served to reinforce "America's rightful claim to ownership of baseball" and the "indispensability of the United States."20 Even as Team Japan defeated Team Cuba in the championship, well-known baseball journalist Peter Gammons hailed a victory for the United States through his panegyric to the WBC, stating "all of our cultures all came together and celebrated that baseball is America's game."21

Three years later in 2009, the myopic complaints surrounding the Classic persisted and intensified. The tone shifted dramatically, however, following Team USA's mercy-rule defeat to Puerto Rico and elimination in the 2009 semifinals after a 9–4 drubbing by Japan. The WBC no longer represented America's benevolence in bringing the light of baseball to the world, but illuminated a sense of shame at the loss of baseball as America's national pastime.22 Further, the media amplified the suggestion that US attitudes towards the event needed to adjust rather than the WBC's structure. Bud Selig had championed the cosmopolitanism of the WBC since its beginnings, but after the US loss sport media outlets such as and Sports Illustrated repeated his refrain. Baseball writer Jayson Stark's cry of "We need to get the good old USA on board" exemplified this turn to rallying support for the tournament.23 Additionally, the United States economy had dipped into a deep recession and critics no longer praised the revenue generating functions of the WBC, but instead admonished the tournament as a selfish gimmick, stunt or experiment simply to make money for MLB.24

promotion and reception of the 2009 world baseball classic

A major rift emerged between MLB's welcoming of Asian American and Latin Americans into its extended consumer family and the US sporting press's unwillingness to include ethnic minorities within the domestically constructed fan base. Several key figures in MLB's front office (including Selig, Senior Vice President of International Business Operations, Paul Archey, former MLB President Bob DuPuy, and former Executive Director of MLBPA Donald Fehr) presented an implied acknowledgment of their changing notions of American identity based upon their public statements and public relations efforts in support of the WBC. In addition to establishing markets within South Korea, Japan, China and several parts of Central America and the Caribbean, these executives sought to capitalize on Asian American and Latin American fan bases within the United States. A significant theme [End Page 120] in the sport media's coverage of the Classic sought to mitigate this inclusivity through opinions and arguments that collided against, worked within and ultimately negotiated MLB's promotion, planning and execution of the WBC.

Framing the WBC as a dual threat to the sacred rituals of spring training and credibility of the regular season and "World" Series, several journalists rejected the tournament as meaningless. This criticism was often coupled alongside condemnations of MLB's profit motives. A conflation of the tournament's means and ends revealed a slight panic amid the unsettling recession and fears of a decline in the waning US economy's global influence. In 2006, the press mostly ignored the WBC after dismal television ratings, but in 2009, some were compelled to respond. For them the Classic apparently exposed MLB's vulnerabilities. The shortcomings of Team USA, an apathetic fan base and inattentive media outlets led more than a few sports writers to construct their own plans for how to "fix" both the WBC and Team USA's approach.

These strategies may seem trivial; however, a closer reading of their suggestions indicates an alignment with MLB's interest in the WBC as an effort to extract resources to return to the United States.25 In other words, getting on board with the WBC also meant embracing MLB's business model which posits baseball exclusively as its own North American brand and professional entertainment spectacle.26 The difficulty for MLB lies in convincing its core traditional fan base—inundated for over a century by an exceptionalist mentality that denied the legitimacy of other baseball nations—to suddenly recognize and celebrate international baseball players and leagues.27

who is an american?

According to national demographic research, between 1995 and 2001 Latin American and Asian American fan bases for MLB increased by 361.3 percent and 43.7 percent, respectively, while among Whites and African Americans the fan bases decreased by 12.4 and 8 percentage points.28 MLB executives and ESPN appealed to these shifting demographics of Americans in their attempts to sell and nurture acceptance of the WBC. The WBC ran full page advertisements in both the USA Today and New York Times with the motto, "Behind every play, a nation." The ads prominently featured a famous MLB player such as Venezuelan native Johan Santana or the Dominican Republic's David Ortiz in his national team uniform.29 Similarly, ESPN launched a global campaign for the WBC with the title "National pastime. International stars." Their television spots featured players from the United States, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Japan paying homage to their heritage while preparing for the WBC, with some dialogue subtitled in Spanish and Japanese to emphasize the "global [End Page 121] nature of the event."30 Statements from MLB's front office supported this sudden embrace of a wider, more diverse fan constituency and extend ownership of the national pastime to previously excluded groups of non-European origins. For example, Paul Archey stated that MLB's non-US born players are "a loud 30% and we want fans to know that the MLB is an international league and baseball is an international game."31

In this statement Archey announced that baseball is an international pastime for fans outside the country to embrace. Latin American players and fans are often cited for their fun and boisterous displays of support or celebration on and off the field. Archey's use of the word "loud" may present an opportunity to appeal to the stereotypical depiction of these or other fan bases. Bob DuPuy highlighted Los Angeles's international and diverse makeup as a major reason for awarding the Dodgers the semifinals and final of the 2009 Classic.32 The most strident endorsement for expanding notions of who counts as American in relation to baseball, however, came from Selig, who rationalized, "As the national pastime, baseball should have a wider appeal to people of all ethnic groups."33

MLB officials for clubs in areas with large Latin and Asian fan bases, such as Miami and Los Angeles, also advocated the virtues of baseball as the Americas national pastime. For example, the Florida Marlins' senior vice president of communications and broadcasting touted, "We're a natural fit to host such a tournament because we're a good baseball market and we are the gateway to the Americas."34 If most of the rhetoric for the inclusivity of American ethnicities in MLB came through indirect references attached to marketing initiatives, the press was much more explicit in their dichotomous classification of Americans and not-Americans, with scant space for blurred and/or transnational identification.

Bernie Lincicome of the Wall Street Journal claimed that "America" was not taking the WBC very seriously, which begs the question of how he defined those in the United States who passionately followed the tournament.35 The Minneapolis Star Tribune summarized the conclusion of the WBC by proclaiming, "The 'world' baseball 'classic' is over. Not-the-USA beat Not-the-USA to win the title, with Not-the-USA taking second."36 Jim Souhan mocked the tournament by placing world and classic in quotes. He presented a xenophobic view of the WBC and a very narrow definition of who counts as an American. Souhan continued, "For American baseball fans, it's [the WBC] a lose-lose proposition."37 He ignored the fact that Americans may have been interested in the game despite the fact that Team USA was already eliminated and left no room for those who dually identify as Japanese American or Cuban American. [End Page 122]

Several sports journalists joined Souhan's minimization the WBC. Patrick Ruesse denied that true "Americans" like the WBC as he asserted the Classic was a "ridiculous event that excites Bud [Selig] and handfuls of fans around the globe."38 And despite the tournament's popular appeal to Asian and Latin American fans, Dan Rosenheck suggested "American fans have met … the World Baseball Classic with a collective yawn."39 Alan Schwarz argued it "exists far less for the US than for certain ingredients of its melting pot."40 In sum, these journalists aligned various ethnic minorities into one undoubtedly passionate group, whereas US fans were ostensibly disinterested. In addition to these writers, MLB players constructed fan bases as "us" or "them" in their comments about the Classic.41

On March 22, 2009, Derek Jeter and David Wright of Team USA noted the presence and enthusiasm of more Latin than American fans during games on US soil against Venezuela and Puerto Rico.42 While Jeter and Wright make a fairly innocuous observation, they do not account for fans of Venezuela and/or Puerto Rico who may be naturalized or second and third generation born US citizens, nor the fact that Puerto Rico is an unincorporated US territory. Team USA's Kevin Youkilis was more ironically direct as he opined, "I don't think there's as much pride in the USA as there is for other countries."43 Fan support for a representative country's baseball team, however, does not necessarily preclude pride in the United States. Nor is it guaranteed, but writers and players alike interpreted fans' support of a particular team as a binary that ignored the wider complexities of transnational identification.

advocating and resisting the global corporate economy through the wbc

Bud Selig sent a clear message to MLB owners, general managers, players and fans following the conclusion of the 2009 WBC. He straightforwardly advised, "This is a time to put the best interests of the game ahead of your own selfish, provincial interests."44 Selig often used game and baseball interchangeably to stand in for MLB's corporate interest in global market expansion. Donald Fehr also stressed that MLB should do "everything we can to expand internationally," while Archey aimed to funnel revenue streams to MLB through broadcasting, sponsorships and business partnerships in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Latin America, Australia, and hopefully China and parts of Europe.45

Various prominent executives repeatedly touted the success of the 2009 WBC based on international measures. These benchmarks included increased overall attendance (particularly at non-US sites), higher average and single-game television viewership (including record-setting viewings in Japan) [End Page 123] and double the number of corporate sponsors (including five international beer companies). MLB officials considered the WBC "a global event that has attracted the interest of sponsors around the world. Our list of partners will be larger, more active and more diverse than the last event."46 These successes helped spark an increase of over fifty percent in total revenue compared with the 2006 WBC.47

Journalists often conflated their critique of the Classic's timing during MLB's spring training with its revenue generating functions. For example, after noting his perceptions of the WBC's shortcomings Bernie Miklasz argued, "The WBC is about international marketing, with the goal of depositing more cash into the MLB vault. That's why I won't watch one inning of it."48 His obvious oversight is that MLB operates for profit regardless of the WBC. The global corporatism of MLB, however, appears to strike a nerve with Miklasz and other writers particularly in light of the economic recession.

Chris De Luca issued a separate critique of MLB's profit-seeking in his assertion that the "WBC is a fabricated gimmick" to make money for MLB and its international partners.49 De Luca insinuates that MLB's playoffs and World Series are more authentic. The matchup between South Korea and Japan in the final indicated for William Rhoden of the New York Times that MLB's priorities had skewed towards entertainment. "The American game" he admonished, "for better or for worse, has moved to lavish new stadiums and supports lucrative player contracts. It is built on power and entertainment—a deadly combination we've discovered, in an era of performance-enhancing drugs."50 South Korea and Japan however, have "learned our game, digested it and improved upon it by going back to the basics (emphasis added)."51 Rhoden's rebuke of MLB was connected to an idea that MLB's hunger for power and profit had sullied the quality of its major leagues and engendered its loss of innocence.

From this standpoint, it was a short ideological leap to aver that baseball was no longer the province of the United States. Depending on one's standpoint the WBC was either the cause or effect of the United States' perceived loss in baseball stature. Regardless, the WBC (and its global participants) marked a threat to the credibility of MLB and the significance of the national pastime. Rather than take a condescending stance toward the WBC, as was common both in 2006 and 2009, some journalists and MLB officials coalesced around a new dictum that MLB—and by extension the United States' fans—needed to adjust and adapt by embracing the incipient Classic. [End Page 124]

"have we lost the game itself?"52

In contrast to these journalists' perceptions, MLB's form of globalization in actual practice is not the export of baseball from the United States to other countries. Instead, it is "the migration of baseball labor to the United States."53 MLB's globalization takes the form of "Americanization" through baseball's ties to US imperial quests, colonization of lands in the Caribbean, Asia, and Pacific and the establishment of "internal colonies" of immigrants within US borders.54 The baseball press's reactionary claim that players from South Korea, Japan and Latin America had subordinated the US-born MLB players belied a response that embraced the WBC to the extent that it could reestablish MLB's global hegemony.

MLB emphasized contributing $14 million in WBC payouts to competing baseball federations, perhaps as an effort to establish the league's compassion in spreading the growth of baseball worldwide. Meanwhile, MLB and the MLBPA maintained sixty-six percent of the profits generated by the tournament.55 MLB, however, has strained its relationships with Japan, South Korea, Cuba and the Dominican Republic's baseball leagues through unilateral control of the WBC's structure, sponsorships and marketing.

Comments made by MLB executives contradicted a supposed concern with the growth of competing professional leagues in other countries. For example, DuPuy remarked on MLB's "growth situation in Asia," Fehr cited China and India as the largest markets for exploitation, and Jim Small, MLB vice president of marketing and development, remarked that there are "more high school athletes in China than people in the United States."56 These claims highlight the dubious nature of MLB's non-commercial intentions to spread baseball for the sake of the game alone. For example, the Boston Red Sox president expressed his wish to "invite, warmly, the members of the Japanese baseball world to come to visit Fenway, Boston, and the New England region" after his club's procurement of Nippon Professional Baseball and WBC star Daisuke Matsuzaka.57

MLB conducted various goodwill tours to promote the WBC and forge new markets in China, Europe and Africa. The rhetoric surrounding these visits is cloaked in imperialist tones. MLB executives and scouts often described both the Classic and nations where baseball is not played as being in a state of "infancy" or a "primitive stage" that establishes a paternalistic relationship between the organization and the resources it seeks to exploit.58 As Le Velle E. Neal noted for the Star Tribune, one scout for the Minnesota Twins described Europe as a place with "body types" [his club is] looking for, while Hall of [End Page 125] Famer Rod Carew observed how the players there try to "emulate" what they have seen in videos of MLB players.59

The emphasis on bodies that desire to mimic MLB players harkens colonizers' efforts to train and re-make the colonized in their image. Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, too, perceived that Ghanaian young men "had athletic ability and were converting it into baseball," but that it was not a place to "grab talent" ready for professional baseball in the United States.60 Winfield's troubling language conjures an image of kidnapping and/or extricating raw materials for productive seasoning in the United States. The general manager of the New York Mets identified a "passion" for baseball without "a way to express it" among the Ghanaians.61 These remarks mirror Jerry Lee's analysis of how WBC coverage of Korea and Japan amplified, exploited and sensationalized colonial violence to serve MLB's commercial interests.62

The successes of South Korea and Japan's baseball teams were framed as a case of the colonized beating the colonizers at their own game. Timing and injuries were no longer viewed as an excuse because the US team was simply falling behind better competition. For Harvey Araton, the east-Asian teams demonstrated impressive fundamentals, team play and unselfishness.63 His observations strike an uncanny resemblance to the "American" traits exemplified by baseball at the turn of the twentieth century. The flag-waving, emotion and nationalism displayed by fans of South Korea and Japan stood in stark contrast to interpretations of uninspired play and the indifferent fan base for Team USA. Following Team USA's loss to Japan, MLB's US Ambassador for the Classic Tommy Lasorda disapprovingly (and inaccurately) commented, "We taught those people the game."64 Joel Sherman of the New York Post framed the US loss in more bellicose terms by insinuating that "MLB … can tolerate some collateral damage … in exchange for winning the war for the hearts, minds and dollars of people all over the planet."65 Brian Cashman, general manager of the New York Yankees, framed the WBC as part of the burden for spreading baseball across the globe, stating "we all have to deal with it for the greater good."66

These quotes are linked with MLB's broader effort to expand its market without necessarily growing the game internationally. Underlying Cashman's reluctant tolerance of the WBC is the notion that Team USA's lack of success might actually foster MLB's ability to gain support for baseball globally. The press often discussed this scenario as a losing proposition for the United States: winning the WBC would only confirm that baseball is the US national pastime, while defeat buttressed the tournament's significance outside the country. [End Page 126]

concluding thoughts: recognizing the game

By the end of the 2009 WBC, Paul Archey had grown weary of the US sporting press's constant nagging about the meaningless of the tournament. He admitted briefly and indirectly that he could not articulate what the Classic meant in the United States. "It is about growing the game globally" Archey reiterated, "but what does [the WBC] mean here?"67 According to many fans and the press it has not become an exciting, fun, enjoyable or symbolic part of the game. Embedded within reactions to the Classic ranging from harsh critiques, lamentations and matter-of-fact pronouncements of American exceptionalism, are reflections on US culture and American identity during the early stages of the twenty-first century.

Some voices supported the "global" inclusivity of the WBC and MLB's shedding of its insular past. But critics also ironically maintained that the tournament represented MLB's desire to stamp its logo on the game of baseball worldwide. Even though by the mid-2000s roughly thirty percent of MLB's active rosters were comprised of non-US born players, the media narrative of the WBC constructed the US fan as threatened by the tournament's potential to dismantle baseball as the American national pastime.

Despite this fact, the WBC highlighted in different ways how MLB operates under the conditions of a global corporate economy. For many of the journalists cited in this article, the WBC rendered baseball's maintenance of the American myth as a no longer tenable position. In other words, the WBC's blatant appeal to a wide and diverse range of ethnic groups may represent the de-linking of baseball, Major League Baseball and a status as the "national" pastime for recalcitrant purists and traditionalists. The belated media ground-swell to "get the good old USA" on the WBC bandwagon employed troubling rhetoric that responded to, and helped constitute, a discourse of discomfort with the US economy's fallibility during the 2008 and 2009 recession. Fans and consumers must be attentive to not only who controls and defines the meanings of baseball and MLB, but the ways in which those meanings are amplified and mobilized for potentially damaging political, economic and cultural ends.

The WBC is a site through which MLB simultaneously attempts to preserve its romantic tradition while expanding its corporate reach. Discourses critiquing the WBC take MLB to task for this corporate endeavor, while reinforcing a certain imagined and "racialized" sense of what the typical American baseball fan cares about and wants to consume. A close reading of MLB's promotion of the event and the press's response to it underscores changing conceptions of baseball as America's game. [End Page 127]

Prior to the start of the 2013 World Baseball Classic Commissioner Selig unapologetically told doubters, "You won't recognize the sport in a decade."68 The textual analysis performed in this article illustrates two critiques of the 2009 WBC that pushed back against Selig's hyperbolic prediction of baseball's transformation. Sports journalists refused to acknowledge, or mocked, fan communities within and outside the United States that had staked a claim in the WBC as a source of regional, national and cultural identification. They simultaneously chided MLB for marketing the tournament as a global capitalist enterprise rather than a nostalgic US national pastime.

Dain TePoel

dain tepoel is a doctoral candidate specializing in the cultural study of sport in the Department of American Studies at the University of Iowa. His research includes feminist and anti-racist critiques of inequality and discrimination in the production/consumption of sport media, and the cultural politics of the heteronormative family in sport representations. Currently, he is working on his dissertation which situates transcontinental walks as a form of physical endurance in relation to activism and social movements throughout United States history


1. I will use the terms WBC, tournament and Classic interchangeably to refer to the World Baseball Classic.

2. Alan M. Klein, "Globalizing Sport: Assessing the World Baseball Classic," Soccer & Society 9, no. 2 (2008): 158–69. This article contextualizes the World Baseball Classic and its consequences within the United States. Though the WBC is an international event, and mainly initiated by MLB International, this article aims to clarify the contexts of the main discussions and their implications in US backgrounds in terms of audiences and fans. The following discussions and arguments should be considered and located within US contexts.

3. Benjamin D. Goss, "Taking the Ballgame Out to the World: An Analysis of the World Baseball Classic as a Global Branding Promotional Strategy for Major League Baseball," Journal of Sport Administration and Supervision 1, no. 1 (2009): 75–95.

4. Jeremy W. Howell, "From SBC Park to the Tokyo Dome: Baseball and (Inter) Nationalism," in Sport and Corporate Nationalisms, ed. Michael L. Silk et al. (New York: Berg, 2005), 227–52; Jerry W. Lee, "Commodifying Colonial Histories: Korea Versus Japan and the Re/production of Colonial Violence in the World Baseball Classic," Journal of Sport and Social Issues 36, no. 3 (2012): 231–44; Alan M. Klein, Growing the Game: The Globalization of Major League Baseball, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006. [End Page 128]

5. There are many American countries within the Americas. Following this initial reference to "US-American" however, I will use "American" to mean those people from the United States. In this study, most sports journalists used the term "American" in exclusive identification with United States. Though I critique this practice, I will use "American" to avoid confusion in the manuscript.

6. "Morning Buzz," SportsBusiness Daily, March 25, 2009, para. 37. Accessed December 14, 2015,

7. Citation withheld to preserve anonymity.

8. Daniel A. Nathan, "Baseball as the National Pastime: A Fiction Whose Time Is Past," The International Journal of the History of Sport 31, nos. 1–2 (2014): 91–108.

9. David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), 30, 67–75, 152–62; John Thorn, Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 57, 296.

10. Gerald R. Gems, The Athletic Crusade: Sport and American Cultural Imperialism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), 140–41; Steven A. Riess, Touching Base: Professional Baseball and American Culture in the Progressive Era (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 7.

11. Melvin L. Adelman, A Sporting Time: New York City and the Rise of Modern Athletics, 1820–70 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 91–122; Thorn, Baseball in the Garden of Eden, xi.

12. Michael Butterworth, Baseball and the Rhetorics of Purity: The National Pastime and American Identity During the War on Terror (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010), 169.

13. Butterworth, 169.

14. Michael L. Silk, David L. Andrews, and C.L. Cole, "Corporate Nationalism(s): The Spatial Dimensions of Sporting Capital," in Sport and Corporate Nationalisms, ed. Michael L. Silk et al. (New York: Berg, 2005), 7.

15. Silk, Andrews, and Cole, 5.

16. Silk, Andrews, and Cole, 6.

17. Silk, Andrews, and Cole, 7.

19. Citation withheld to preserve anonymity.

20. Butterworth, Baseball and the Rhetorics of Purity, 27.

21. As quoted in Butterworth, Baseball and the Rhetorics of Purity, 28–29.

22. Robert Elias, The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold American Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad (New York: The New Press, 2010), 1. [End Page 129]

23. Jayson Stark, "The Stark Plan Will Give WBC Big Boost,", March 20, 2009, para. 51. Accessed December 14, 2015,

24. Catherine Rampell, "'Great Recession': A Brief Etymology," New York Times, March 11, 2009, accessed December 16, 2015,

25. Elias, Empire Strikes Out, 277–78.

26. Elias, 277–78.

27. For some examples of baseball's development and growth outside of the United States, see Adrian Burgos, Jr., Playing America's Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the Color Line, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007; Alan M. Klein, Dominican Baseball: New Pride, Old Prejudice, Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2014; Andrew D. Morris, Colonial Project, National Game: A History of Baseball in Taiwan, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011; Rob Ruck, Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game, Boston: Beacon Press, 2011.

28. Howell, "From SBC Park," 243.

29. "Morning Buzz," SportsBusiness Daily, December 8, 2008, accessed December 14, 2015,

30. "ESPN to Launch New Global Campaign Saturday in Support of WBC," Sports-Business Daily, February 13, 2009, para. 1. Accessed December 14, 2015,

31. Ross Biddiscombe, "Global Appeal," SportBusiness International, May 1, 2007, accessed December 14, 2015, The author was granted access to this article through a university affiliated membership with the Sport Business Research Network, a continuously updated source of full text articles providing news and market research information from sports industry sources.

32. Tony Jackson, "WBC Has Format Change," The Daily News of Los Angeles, August 1 2008, C5.

33. Howell, "From SBC Park," 243.

34. "Coast to Coast," SportsBusiness Daily, March 17, 2008, para. 9. Accessed December 14, 2015,

35. "Selig Says WBC Is Successful in Drive to Globalize Baseball," Sports-Business Daily, March 17, 2009, para 7. Accessed December 14, 2015, [End Page 130]

36. Jim Souhan, "Be it Basketball, Baseball, or Football, Observations and Opinions Abound," Star Tribune, March 25, 2009, para. 1. Accessed December 14, 2015,

37. Souhan, para. 3.

38. Patrick Ruesse, "No Surprise over Latest Steroids Allegation," Star Tribune, February 8, 2009, para. 9. Accessed December 14, 2015,

39. Dan Rosenheck, "Will Big-Leaguers in Classic Be Worse for Wear?" New York Times, March 22, 2009, para. 1. Accessed December 14, 2015,

40. Alan Schwarz, "Expatriate Enthusiasm on Display at Classic," New York Times, March 16, 2009, para. 1. Accessed December 14, 2015,

41. The "Othering" present in the WBC is not unique to baseball, of course. For example, see Andrew Billings, Kenon Brown, and Natalie Brown-Devlin, "Sports Draped in the American Flag: Impact of the 2014 Winter Olympic Telecast on Nationalized Attitudes," Mass Communication and Society 18, no. 4 (2015): 377–98; and Andrew Billings, Lauren Burch and Matthew Zimmerman, "Fragments of Us, Fragments of Them: Social Media, Nationality and US Perceptions of the 2014 FIFA World Cup," Soccer & Society 16, nos. 5–6 (2015): 726–44.

42. "U.S. Expects More Fan Support in Semifinals," Chicago Daily Herald, March 22, 2009, Sports Section, Page 2; "Japan Eliminates U.S. in Semifinals," Washington Post, March 23, 2009, E05.

43. "Selig Says WBC Is Successful," para. 2.

44. Eric Fisher, "Selig to Clubs: Put Game above Selfish Interests," SportsBusiness Journal, March 30, 2009, para. 6. Accessed December 14, 2015,

45. Biddiscombe, "Global Appeal"; "Fehr Thinks March Is the Best Time for 2009 WBC,", March 15, 2007, para. 7. Accessed December 14, 2015,

46. Danielle Sessa, "Anheuser-Busch, MasterCard Skip 2009 Baseball Classic,", December 22, 2008, para. 10. Accessed December 14, 2015,

47. Fisher, "Selig to Clubs."

48. "Many Big Name MLBers Steering Clear of World Baseball Classic," Sports-Business Daily, February 25, 2009, para. 4. Accessed December 14, 2015, [End Page 131]

49. "Second WBC Begins Amid Lack of Star Power, Schedule Concerns," Sports-Business Daily, March 5, 2009, para. 3. Accessed December 14, 2015,

50. William C. Rhoden, "United States' Loss Runs Deeper than One Game," New York Times, March 24, 2009, para. 7. Accessed December 14, 2015,

51. Rhoden, para. 8.

52. Rhoden, para. 22.

53. George Gmelch, Baseball without Borders: The International Pastime (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), 310.

54. Elias, Empire Strikes Out, 1.

55. Fisher, "Selig to Clubs."

56. "Selig Says Rays' World Series Run Product of Competitive Balance," Sports-Business Daily, October 23, 2008, para. 2. Accessed December 14, 2015,; La Velle E. Neal III, "New Frontiers: Wherever Baseball or Athletes Exist, So Does Potential," Star Tribune, April 1, 2007, 7S.

57. Joe Christensen, "Baseball without Borders: The Changing Face of Baseball, New Foreign Talent and Growing Markets are Extending MLB's Reach as an International Sport," Star Tribune, April 1, 2007, 8S.

58. Neal III, "New Frontiers," 7S.

59. Neal III.

60. Neal III.

61. Neal III.

62. Lee, "Commodifying Colonial Histories," 231–44.

63. Harvey Araton, "Stars and Stripes Aren't Only Symbols of Baseball," New York Times, March 15, 2009, accessed December 14, 2015,

64. "Japan Eliminates U.S.," Washington Post, E05.

65. "Selig Says WBC Is Successful," para. 4.

66. "Selig Says WBC Is Successful," para. 4.

67. Fisher, "Selig to Clubs," para. 12.

68. Bill Baer, "Selig: You 'Won't Recognize' Baseball in a Decade,", March 8, 2013, para. 4. Accessed December 14, 2015, [End Page 132]

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