Monday, March 23, 2009


John has written in the past about the problem with youth baseball in America. And more recently, he's written about Team USA and their "Moneyball" players.

Watching Team USA's Sunday night loss to Japan, which eliminated the Americans from the tournament, proved a direct link between those two topics.

Team USA was outclassed and outplayed by an impressive Japan team. One word describes why they lost: Fundamentals.

Team USA recorded three errors in the 9-4 loss, and all of them hurt badly. In fact, four of Japan's nine runs were UNEARNED. Erase those and it becomes a one-run game, not an embarrassing blowout.

(And it wasn't just errors, either, but sloppy play in general. In the sixth inning, left fielder Ryan Braun absolutely dogged it on what should have been a fairly routine fly ball. Instead of running in to make a catch, he stood there and let it drop ten feet in front of him. I'm sure Brewers manager Ken Macha was thrilled that one of his star players is taking it easy and avoiding an injury risk, but Team USA pitcher JP Howell must have been fuming. Although it's probably what he expected.)

The Japanese team is fun to watch. All their players can hit to the gaps; they can all run; they can all bunt; they can all field their position. Only a few of them can slug, but that's a tool they just don't need when their opponent (USA) can ONLY slug. (The steroids speculation is unavoidable here, especially when seeing Adam Dunn-sized sluggers on the same field with Team Japan. Many of the Japanese players look like they wouldn't weigh 150 pounds soaking wet.)

So to bring this full circle: American youth baseballers are not learning fundamentals. They're not getting the 50 at-bats a day Lofflin spoke of, and they're not seeing hundreds of ground balls on a rock-infested infield. And this year's World Baseball Classic proved it.

--Matt Kelsey

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