The 1989 World Baseball Classic

And now a little bit of fun inspired by a chance encounter with a pack of 1989 Topps baseball cards.  My wife and I were in Target and they had a box of 15 assorted packs of baseball cards for $10.  We like to send that sort of thing in care packages to our honorary nieces and nephews, and most of the packs were from 2006-07.  But then, there was the pack of ’89 Topps in there and I’m not sure why.  (Yes, the bubble gum was in there.  No I haven’t.  Yet.)

Some of the players in the pack were a trip down memory lane.  Mickey Tettleton.  A guy (Joe Hesketh) wearing an Expos uniform.  Brady Anderson before his name became synonymous with “statistical outlier.”  Then there were the guys of whom I had never heard.  Terry Taylor apparently started five games for the Mariners in 1988 and no one told me.  (He never pitched again in the majors.)  The Yankees apparently employed a man named Charles Hudson who, judging from his stats, was a swing man.  He pitched from 1983-1989 with the Phillies, Yankees, and Tigers.  No clue who he was.

In what I suppose was meant as a cheeky joke, Kirk Gibson got an “All Star” card as a “pinch hitter” for the National League.  (Even cheekier, Gibson never actually played in an All-Star game.)  Then there were the GWRBI’s.  Now there’s a stat that’s meaningful!

Anyway, a little while earlier I had been thinking about the World Baseball Classic, which is allegedly going to take place every four years, although the first one was in 2006 and the second one was in 2009.  Someone in baseball… can’t… add.  It’s supposed to be baseball’s version of the (soccer) World Cup.  It’s just that the World Cup has a great deal of tradition going for it, as it dates back to 1934.  It got me thinking.  Had the WBC been going on for a while, 1989 would have been a WBC year.  So, let’s turn back the clock, shall we?

It’s Spring Training of 1989.  The Dodgers(!) are World Champions for the second time in the decade.  The A’s have Billy Beane in camp… as an outfielder.  Oh yeah, along with Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco*.  Debbie Gibson was number one on the charts with “Lost in Your Eyes.”  (Milli Vanilli* was at #11.  Seems like it was the golden age for things that we thought were the real deal, but turned out to be fake.)  George H.W. Bush had just been sworn in as President.  I was in 3rd grade.

So who would have (should have?) been on Team USA for the WBC ’89?  Who would have opposed them?

A quick scan of the VORP ratings for 1988 shows that there were a lot of Americans among the best position players in MLB.  Wade Boggs was coming off an insane season in which he had an on-base percentage of .476 and was first in VORP.  Canseco* was second, although he was born in Cuba.  Do you suppose that he would have played for the Cuban team?  The only other non-Americans in the Top 25 were Andres Galarraga (Venezuela) and Julio Franco (Dominican Republic).

The Americans could have put together an infield of Brett, Sandberg, Ripken (Cal, not Billy), and Boggs with an outfield of Greenwell, Puckett, and Winfield.  Carlton Fisk could have caught Orel Hershiser.  Not a bad starting lineup.  A bunch of All-Stars.  Then again, the Americans went to the 2009 WBC with a roster filled with All-Stars and didn’t win.

But who would have been the competition that year?  Looking at players born in the Dominican Republic who were active in the Majors at the time and who played for more than two years in the Majors, Dominica could have put together a starting lineup of MLB talent.  The problem is that at the corners, they would have probably had to play some guys out of position.  At the time, there were a lot of utility infielder types and slick fielding shortstops with OBPs too low to mention coming from D.R. (Junior Noboa, Mariano Duncan, Jose Uribe, Domingo Ramos, Rafael Belliard), so perhaps one of them could play third.  Julio Franco and Tony Fernandez would have made a good keystone combo (although Andres Thomas was coming off a “good for a shortstop” year in Atlanta), with an outfield that could have featured George Bell, Pedro Guerrero, and that guy Stan Javier (who was his generation’s Raul Ibanez… never good enough to be in the “best in the game discussions”, but you kinda knew who he was… he was that guy.)  Maybe Sammy Sosa (who debuted later that year) would have been called upon, or another promising minor leaguer, Jose Offerman.  Tony Pena would have caught Jose Rijo or perhaps one of the Perez brothers (Pascual or Melido).

The Venezuelan team would have been a little thin in the outfield (Tony Armas, Carlos Quintana, and ???), but could have had an infield of Galarraga, Manny Trillo/Fred Manrique, Ozzie Guillen, and Carlos Martinez.  Bo Diaz probably would have caught.  The pitching is another story.  During the 1989 season, the following pitchers born in Venezuela pitched in an MLB game; Miguel Garcia (who?), German Gonzalez (huh?), Urbano Lugo (oh that guy!), Julio Machado (?), Tony Castillo (ummm), and Wilson Alvarez.  Looks like Alvarez gets the start.

The team from Puerto Rico could build an infield around the very young Alomar brothers, and field Carmelo Martinez at first with some combination of Luis Alicea, Rey Quinones, Joey Cora in the other two infield spots.  In the outfield, they could call on the then-good quartet of Ivan Calderon, Ruben Sierra, Danny Tartabull, and Candy Maldonado.  There’s something poetic about those four players being in the same sentence.  Maybe the then-rookie Juan Gonzalez might have fit into that mix.

So, there would have been some interesting teams at the ’89 WBC.  But teams like Canada, who put out a team of mostly (pretty good) MLB players would have had a few spare parts to call on.  Japan is something of a mystery.  At the time, there weren’t really any Japanese players in MLB, but was that an issue of talent or geography?

I suppose that it all goes to show how deep the talent pool worldwide has gotten and how good MLB has gotten in terms of finding it.  The ’09 WBC featured teams composed of plenty of “really good” to “excellent” players.   The ’89 version would have had some decent teams, but a few teams filling out their rosters with… filler.

So now, reader, I issue you a challenge.  What would the WBC have looked like in years past?  For example, what would the ’85 WBC US team have looked like?  The ’77 WBC?  The 1997 WBC?  Leave something in the comments.  The best entry wins a cookie.  (Note: no actual cookie will be awarded.)

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4 Responses to The 1989 World Baseball Classic

  1. Millsy says:

    Being somewhat of a youngin’…I’ll happily take 1997.
    We’ve obviously got to start with Tony Gwynn. He’ll be our first outfielder. Too bad Larry Walker was born in Canada. Frank Thomas at DH.
    We had Griffey and Bonds back in their heyday, and I’m not sure you can exclude them from an All American team (well…at least in 1997 for Bonds). Mike Piazza at Catcher, of course. What a season he had. Who could forget Jeff Bagwell over at first base. Though Thomas and McGwire were the big names…something about Bagwell just screams USA, doesn’t it?
    The 1B/DH positions are tough and I’m sure we’d see David Justice, Mo Vaughn, Jim Thome, and Mark McGwire in there somewhere. We’ll put them on the rooster, as Rube would say.
    I’ve gotta put A-Rod at Shortstop…but who knows what team he’d play for. His .358 BA in 1996 would put him in the starting role, though. Nomar could slide over to 2B. He was born in California. Though, he’s fairly young here, and didn’t have his real breakout until the 1997 regular season. So we’ve got to go with someone else. He’d be a nice alternate at this point.
    Cal Ripken, Jr. can’t be left out. However, after the year A-Rod had, he’s going to have to fight for play time. His defense will get him in there next to Biggio or in place of Ken Caminiti at 3B if his head explodes. Cal IS American Baseball.
    What kind of American team wouldn’t have Paul O’Neill and Derek Jeter? O’Neill will be our team leader, but riding some pine. Jeter is a nice backup 2B. Gotta stick the other B on the right side of the infield. Craig Biggio at 2B.
    Though Ken Caminiti was nuts, I’ve got to stick him at 3B. The guy could rake and I believe he won the MVP the previous season. I’m reluctant to cut Jim Edmonds and J.T. Snow, but they’ll be on the alternate roster if the team needs some defense. Finally, I think Albert Belle was the only person in history to hit the ball harder than Gary Sheffield on a line, so he’ll be an alternate, too. We don’t want his high elbows to the face being representative of what America stands for…at least until we start to lose…right?
    On to pitching. Our first starter is obviously Roger Clemens. I’m not sure there’s any argument there. It’s 1997, so of course we’ve got Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz. Kevin Brown had a 1.89 ERA in 1996, so I don’t know how you leave him off this one. That’s our starting 5 (though, I guess it’s more of a starting 3 in the WBC). I’m very anti-Curt Schilling in just about everything…so he can sit at home and write in his journal, since blogs weren’t invented yet. Al Leiter and Andy Pettite just miss the cut. They’re alternates.
    Ah…the heydey of Hells Bells and Trevor Hoffman. He’s our closer. Period. Percival and Wettland were the other high-profile guys here. They’ll set up and close. Finally, I’ve got to include Mark Wholers on the alternate list. That guy’s arm angle and general approach was scary. I loved him. Finally, we’ll give a shout out to Jeff Brantley as a RP on the team. Heck of a 1996 season.
    C Mike Piazza
    1B Jeff Bagwell
    2B Craig Biggio
    3B Ken Caminiti
    SS Alex Rodriguez
    OF Tony Gwynn
    OF Ken Griffey, Jr.
    OF Barry Bonds
    DH Frank Thomas
    SP Greg Maddux
    SP Roger Clemens
    SP Kevin Brown
    SP John Smoltz
    SP Tom Glavine
    RP Troy Percival
    RP Jeff Brantley
    SU John Wettland
    CL Trevor Hoffman
    BN Paul O’Neill
    BN Mark McGwire
    BN Mo Vaughn
    BN Derek Jeter
    BN Jim Edmonds
    BN Cal Ripken, Jr.
    BN Jim Thome
    Alternates:
    Jim Thome
    Nomar Garciaparra
    Tim Salmon
    J.T. Snow
    Al Leiter
    Andy Pettite
    Mark Wholers
    Albert Belle
    I think that’s a pretty solid 25 man roster. Got a few alternates to be called on, of course. I don’t see any country beating that team. Though, Nomo was pretty hot around this time.

  2. Dan Novick says:

    You’re missing a backup catcher (Biggio doesn’t count). And Piazza could also play for Italy, though that’s doubtful in 1997. Todd Hundely hit 41 home runs in 1996, I think he could work. 1996 was a weird year for catchers… it seems like everybody his 30 home runs.

  3. Millsy says:

    I’m just assuming Mike Piazza is invincible.
    🙂

  4. DanC says:

    Just putting it out there that Dominican Republic and Dominica are two different places.

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