Baseball's Team USA: Symbol of American Decline

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 3/16/2013 05:46:00 PM
Puerto Rico celebrates annihilating the US in the US
You kind of expected this result but it's worth mentioning anyway as a fine metaphor for American decline: For the third straight World Baseball Classic (WBC)--held in the United States for the third consecutive time, no less--Team USA has been thoroughly spanked at what America claims is its "national pastime." They came, they saw, they got their behinds whupped by teams displaying superior unity. How unlamented is this situation? Even the pop culture commentator of note for uncritical USA#1-style boosterism is oddly silent. At any rate, what we have here is sporting mediocrity that reflects wider American decline. That the whitebread commentariat doesn't even mind just adds to the deafening silence of this Symphonie Pathetique [sic].

Indeed, I will argue that the poor play of baseball's Team USA reflects deep-seated pathologies in that downwardly mobile nation. Let us count the ways:

(1) The United States has weak fundamentals - Modern American-style baseball lacks many of the qualities that make the game attractive to a knowledgeable international audience. In every WBC, you have seen American players swinging for the fences in hopes of turning the game around with a towering home run (that almost never came). For many years, the Stateside game has been heavily reliant on muscle-bound, frequently steroidal freaks like Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi Mark McGwire--MVPs all of them--to generate runs.

In contrast, Americans usually deride as "small ball" the things true baseball fans like to watch--especially timely hitting, smart base-running, and so forth exemplified by the Japanese who are into the final round for a third consecutive time gunning for the same number of outright victories. Watching Japanese baseball games at a local Japanese eatery, I can also assure you that the Japanese are indeed exceedingly sound at that other fundamental--defence--as well. You don't get the Little League errors frequently seen in MLB since Japanese players practice a lot at fielding instead of bulking up (steroids optional) and relying on the long ball to carry the day.

I needn't add that the US economy is in the same (sinking) boat with its equally dodgy fundamentals. It has far too much government and household debt. It is structurally biased towards consumption despite its households having both low savings and declining income. In other words, like Team USA, the American economy relies on all the wrong things.

(2) Americans are fond of excuses - Let's face it: Americans are whingers of the highest order. The latest sorry excuse for this pathetic display is that Team USA did not have a top-quality pitching staff. The underling assumption, however, is dubious: why should we assume that playing in MLB would guarantee sterling performance in the WBC? The way Americans think, they believe that more international players implies that MLB is the choice destination and offers the most intense competition in baseball.

Well, think again. Here's a question for the USA#1 cheerleaders: How many MLB players does mighty Team Japan feature? None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Likely, it's not as though Big Name Pitchers would automatically solve American baseball mediocrity. Its inability to compete for medal places once again illustrates that there may be deeper lying symptoms of ingrained structural decline.

Economically speaking, Americans are fond of passing off similar excuses: Europe's slowdown is hitting the US, China's slowdown is hitting the US, other countries don't play fair, etc. It's the same old story again and again in the absence of a collective willingness to admit failure and try to make things better that's led the country down its path to mediocrity.

(3) Americans don't particularly care that they suck - The point is well-taken that WBC is not watched by all that many Americans. An insightful piece of commentary thus asks whether the country even cares that America sucks so badly. A telltale sign of decline is when you are constantly mediocre yet are too indifferent to take notice. Does it not hurt when others cheer for the other team much more loudly on your home ground?

All of which brings us to the bottom line...

(4) Americans are not world-class in a sport they invented - The heart of the matter is that this is the third time others have outdone Americans at their "national pastime" at home for a third consecutive event with nary a medal to show for their (pathetic) efforts.

Industries where America used to lead but have become a joke at are plentiful--think of its car manufacturers, airlines, and so forth. The world has moved on, and the US is simply uncompetitive in areas it blithely assumes it still leads in. Overall, think of "capitalism" as the economic game which the US has long dominated but is now rather poor at and you wouldn't be much off the mark.

Alike in most other things nowadays, only a moron would put good money on Team USA.

UPDATE: It's all over folks, and the Dominican Republic has won in a spectacular unbeaten run. Lest you think the baseball-bored Americans are typical fans, the reception of the WBC was quite massive elsewhere. Which again begs the question of why the US continues to host this event when home crowds are unenthusiastic and the home team obviously sucks:
Japan's loss to Puerto Rico on Sunday was watched by 51 percent of potential viewers in Japan, MLB said. It was the largest share for any of Japan's WBC games this year. The game also was the most-watched sporting event in the past year in Puerto Rico, with the final moments getting a 74 share. ... MLB executive Tim Brosnan called the WBC an ''unqualified, over-the-top success.''