As we now know, Derrek Lee decided not to play in the World Baseball Classic when he was asked to replace Kevin Youkilis for the semi-finals. What we didn’t know is how he was approached about joining the team. Lee says that baseball officials came to him directly, and pressured him to sign up.
“I couldn’t go, not being 100 percent,” said Lee, who played five innings Sunday, his first game since March 16. “I thought it was disrespectful, to be truthful. They knew I wasn’t playing here. How did they expect me to get off the trainer’s table and go play there?
“At the same time, you understand they’re trying to win and I was the guy on the roster, so I guess they figured they’d give it a shot.” cubs.com.
What Lee is saying, without really saying it – he’s got a reputation to think about, and I have no problem with that – is that he thinks it’s absolutely unprofessional and ridiculous that MLB officials expected him to sign on to play in a fake tournament while he was too injured to play with the team that pays him millions of dollars.
And I agree wholeheartedly.
“If I felt well, it’s a different story,” Lee said. “It’s not fair if I miss a week here and go play for them. They knew I was injured. Obviously, everyone knows it’s not a serious injury, but everyone knows it was enough to keep me out of the games.”
Of course, there’s no harm in them asking Lee how he feels about playing, but he would not be out there making these statements unless the officials affirmatively placed pressure on him to play for Team USA.
“There’s a choice you have to make,” Lee said, “but honestly, from playing in it the other time in 2006, I think if you get the opportunity to play for your country, it’s something you should do. That being said, you have to be smart about it.
“If you’re risking injury, or coming off of injury, or you’re not 100 percent, I think it’s something [to consider] — you still have a commitment to your team. You can always get hurt, but I think if you’re nursing an injury, you shouldn’t try to push it just to play for your country.”
Lee is, again, so right. Look, patriotism is great. But the WBC is not the Olympics. It is not the World Cup. It is not even the International Masters of Ping Pong Championship. It is a moderately interesting diversion that most hardcore fans hate because of the prospects of seeing their team’s stars get hurt.
I applaud Lee’s firmness in telling MLB to buzz off. It’s obvious that Bud Selig sees the massive cracks in his baby – he recently castigated what he thought was an unenthusiastic Team USA – and will do anything he can to salvage it. But I can assure you, Bud, if you’re already to the point where you have pressure injured players to play, the thing is sunk. Let the USA field whatever second rate team it can, and leave it to the rest of the world to treat the WBC like it matters. In that regard, it is unsurprising that the championship ended up being decided between Japan and Korea.