Tuesday, May 27, 2014

World Baseball Cup

In an alternate reality, a high profile World Cup of baseball happened. Over the years, the best players in the MLB from all over the world competed to bring the true World Series home. Here is the story.

In 1950, Major League Baseball had already been around for almost 50 years. The US was baseball crazy in a post war society. Some of the best players ever played in this era. Halfway across the globe, the Nippon Professional League was being reformed and restarted. In an interview after being announced as league commissioner in 1951, Morita Fukui stated that he thought the new Nippon Professional League was on par with or better than the MLB. New MLB commish Ford Frick replied to the statement with a proposal. An MLB-NPL all-star game between the two leagues. There was a debate over which country would host the series. The American public were scared to send their best players to a country that had been at war with the US as recently as 6 years before. Stars like Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson said that the exhibition would help relations between the two countries, and would be eager to sign up. Through translators, the new commissioners worked together a plan to host a 3 game series in Washington DC in November of 1951. The capitol was warmer this time of year than Tokyo, and that was said to be the deciding factor. The World Series ended with the Yankees beating the Giants in 6 games. Yankees manager Casey Stengel was named the manager of the MLB team, with Joe DiMaggio helping him on the bench. His roster was heavy on the Yankees. The team was almost all Americans, except for White Sox short stop Chico Corrasquel, and outfielder Minnie Minoso (who only played 3 innings in game 3). It was said that the team put together was the best team ever put together. Imagine, there was a debate on whether Ted Williams or Stan Musial would start in Left. The NPL team was consisted of many Yomiuri Giants, fresh off winning the Japan series. MLB stars would go on to sweep the Japanese, asserting dominance for the American League. In the crowd for those 3 games was entrepreneur and business man Lou Taylor. He saw potential in this game. He wrote a letter to Frick explaining that this exhibition may have been bigger than they could’ve imagined. Taylor had been in Brazil in 1950, in time for the World Cup. 15 of the best in the world all in one place competing for international fame and national pride. But the problem was that soccer was foreign to the American. He had the idea of a baseball World Cup on the flight home. The letter he wrote was the framework for a World Cup of baseball. Eight teams could travel to the rotating host city every 4 years to be split up into 2 groups, then compete in a playoff to determine the best team in the world. 

Frick invited Taylor to his office to go into detail of the project that December. Taylor said that the Americans and Canadians have the MLB, the Japanese were building up their league, and the Caribbean League had just started several years ago. Baseball was growing, and it would be idiotic to not try and capitalize on the expanding markets. He created 8 hypothetical rosters for the 8 countries he imagined would participate, and set a goal to have the first tournament in 1953. Frick was so excited about the new idea that he hired Taylor and formed the International Baseball Federation, the new governing body of international baseball. Taylor began working on getting everyone on board. Fukui was on board, and got on the horn to the Japanese owners and managers. Taylor took the train up to Montreal, and got the leaders of the International League champion Montreal Royals on board and to start forming a Canadian National Team. But where baseball was expanding the most was in Latin America. Frick and Taylor both went to Panama City to the 1952 Caribbean Series. There, they had set in motion the teams for Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Venezuela. Panama thought that they had other priorities, and declined Taylor’s offer. There were 6 teams signed up, and the tournament was getting some coverage in the US. Some critics claimed that the US would destroy the competition because no one does America’s Pastime better than the Americans. With the news going around the clubhouses at spring training, Bobby Avila of the Cleveland Indians got in contact with Taylor. Avila said if he was given a chance, he could put together a Mexican team. Taylor got the contacts to teams in the Mexican League and got the country on board with the idea of a baseball world cup. The tournament needed another team to be even. In Panama, the Puerto Rican manager had told Taylor to possibly look at the Dominican Republic as another team. But there hadn’t been any Dominican players in the MLB yet, so Taylor had them down as the last resort because they’d be embarrassed. The military dictatorship had a few teams, and signed some Negro League players in 1937. The Dominican League had started playing in 1951, but the sport had grown under dictator rule of Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo said the Dominican Republic would send their 1952 champion to the world cup and win the gold. Taylor agreed and had all 8 teams set for the first inaugural World Baseball Cup.

Meanwhile, Frick had arranged the host of the tournament. The 8 teams would play in New York at the Yankees and Giants stadiums. One group would play at Yankee Stadium, and the other would play at the Polo Grounds. The teams would be randomly drawn several days before the tournament. New York was chosen specifically for their two stadiums. They were picked because it was warmer than Chicago in February. This put the Latin American countries at a disadvantage because of the climate. Before the tournament, the traveling teams would settle in Florida and use the spring training homes of MLB teams a month before they got there. In Florida, they could work down the roster to 25 men, and train for the tournament. With the proximity, every once in a while the teams would scrimmage to see where they were in comparison. The Cuban team played at Plant Field in Tampa, the Mexicans played at Henley Field in Lakeland, and the Japanese brought 25 men to Tinker Field in Orlando. The Americans went to St. Pete’s Al Lang Stadium, home of the Yankees spring training in order to settle in ahead of the 1953 season. After a month of work, and some hard cuts the 8 teams were ready to fly to New York. 

I’m going to go tournament by tournament, releasing uniforms and logos for the participating teams. If anyone has time, or interest, I’m looking to adding actual player names to my stories, and some research into some players that could play for their country during their career (ie Bert Blyleven for the Netherlands in the 70s.) I have a list of players, but I would love some help because I will probably miss some players.

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