When the rosters of the 20 participants in the 2023 World Baseball Classic were announced last month, our imaginations were captured by some prospective lineups that looked absolutely stacked. While it’ll be decades before we know how many Hall of Famers will be featured in the tournament, which begins next week, we know that there will be many.
The level of talent in this tournament — especially among the top few teams — is unprecedented.
Even if you go back to the summer of 1933, when The Sporting News hailed baseball’s first official All-Star Game “The Game of the Century.” Just imagine one legend after another strolling to the Comiskey Park plate to try their luck against Lefty Grove or Carl Hubbell, stars like Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth, Al Simmons, Frankie Frisch and Bill Terry.
Now imagine if it were a tournament rather than a single game, one featuring all of those great players but also Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Turkey Stearnes, among the Hall of Famers who appeared in the first Negro Leagues All-Star Game, played later that summer, also at Comiskey.
Now imagine if the best players from outside the United States were part of the proceedings as well, greats like Martin Dihigo and Cristobal Torriente, both from Cuba, and Haruyasu Nakajima, a leading star from the blossoming baseball culture of Japan.
Now imagine if that tournament were more than a mere exhibition.
What you’d end up with would look a lot like the WBC.
In addition to listing the probable starting lineups for that first All-Star Game, The Sporting News also noted the season-to-date batting averages for each starter. Because the American League’s figures were a little higher (.318 to .305, in total), the publication declared the AL to have a “marked advantage in hitting ability.”
Well, hey, modern analytics weren’t exactly a thing then, so TSN might have stumbled into a proper conclusion, its method doesn’t hold up to 2023 standards. We now have the tools and the numbers to dig much deeper than that.
We know that the top WBC lineups are stacked. But just how stacked are they? Let’s put some of those 21st century tools to work.