Inside a baseball clubhouse, the bitterness of one man becomes fodder for the amusement of others. And so on Wednesday morning, Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson grinned when he saw Adrian Gonzalez had returned from the World Baseball Classic.
“Adrian, what happened?” Pederson called across the room. “What happened?”
Seeing Gonzalez talking with reporters, closer Kenley Jansen imitated the weeping of a child. A few other Dodgers joined in. Pederson came over to greet Gonzalez. The men hugged.
“Hey, did you win?” Pederson deadpanned.
“We won,” Gonzalez said. “We did what we had to do.”
Said Pederson: “Unbelievable, huh? What kind of rules are those?"
Replied Gonzalez: “That’s MLB for you.”
His acidic tone stemmed from the explanation Gonzalez, Dodgers reliever Sergio Romo, outfield prospect Alex Verdugo and the rest of Team Mexico received after being eliminated from the tournament over the weekend.
After a victory over Venezuela on Sunday evening in Guadalajara, Mexico, Gonzalez thought his team had earned the chance to play a tiebreaker on Monday against Italy. Mexico was led to this belief after reading an explanation of the rules provided on MLB Network and through the official Twitter accounts of both the WBC and Major League Baseball.
Yet on Monday afternoon, it was Venezuela who played Italy in the tiebreaker. Mexico, Venezuela and Italy had each finished with a record of 1-2 in group play. The WBC broke the deadlock by calculating which team had allowed the fewest runs per defensive inning in the games the teams played against one another. The interpretation of the convoluted statistic created a discrepancy that led to Gonzalez’s distaste for the entire tournament.
“They’re trying to become the World Cup,” Gonzalez said. “But they’re not even close to being the Little League World Series.”
Gonzalez, 34, represents the face of Mexican baseball. He has played in all four iterations of the WBC. He captains the team. His elder brother, Edgar, is the manager. Yet when the tournament returns in 2021, Gonzalez vowed to campaign against it. The WBC, he said, has “no validity.”
“I’ll never do it again,” Gonzalez added. “It’s not worth it. I’ll tell anyone who asks not to play.”
His advice did not sway Jansen, who indicated on Wednesday morning that he plans to join the Netherlands for the finals next week at Dodger Stadium. Jansen had been convinced by conversations with his friend Jurickson Profar, a Texas Rangers infielder and a fellow native of Curacao, and team manager Hensley Meulens.
Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts expressed no concern about Jansen leaving for the tournament. Jansen suggested he would benefit from pitching in an atmosphere that was more conducive to generating excitement.
“Spring training is a joke sometimes,” Jansen said. “Your adrenaline is not there. You’re pitching just to pitch sometimes. Once you get that adrenaline, that definitely will help. Especially playing for your country.”
Gonzalez carries that same passion for Mexico, which added to his disillusionment after the events of the weekend. Mexico lost the first two games of group play to Italy and Puerto Rico, including blowing a four-run lead in the ninth to Italy.
“Come on, man, you lose against Italy?” Jansen cracked.
“We only gave up five because you weren’t pitching,” Gonzalez said. “You would have given up seven.”
Despite the defeats, a window opened for Mexico to advance because Puerto Rico went undefeated in their three games. Before facing Venezuela, Gonzalez said, team officials attempted to reach MLB officials to ask what Mexico needed to do to force the tiebreaker. They received no response, he said.
Midway through the game — which Mexico at one point led, 8-1, and eventually won, 11-9 — MLB Network and various official Twitter accounts relayed that if Mexico won by two, they would reach the tiebreaker. Gonzalez suggested the team would have manipulated its strategy based on how many runs were necessary.
About 20 minutes after the victory on Sunday, word filtered through the clubhouse. Mexico might be out. “It was straight confusion,” Gonzalez said.
The bewilderment would soon shift to anger. In the initial calculations, Italy allowed 1.05 runs per inning in the relevant games. Venezuela allowed 1.11. Mexico allowed 19 runs across what they believed were 18 innings, good for a 1.06 rating.
But a WBC spokesman revealed that the numbers were wrong. Mexico received credit for 17 innings, because the team did not record an out during the ninth inning of the walk-off loss to Italy. Mexico officials replied that the rule said partial innings would be used during the tabulation. MLB countered that the only way to receive credit for a partial inning was to collect an out.
Mexico filed a protest, which was rejected. As members of his team fumed, Gonzalez said he harangued MLB officials at the tournament.
“I told them to their faces,” Gonzalez said. “’You guys are unaccountable. You don’t account for your own actions. You guys have no integrity.’”
Insulted by the unreturned messages before the game, and infuriated by the rigidity of the explanation after the game, Gonzalez vented on social media. At one point he tweeted a screenshot of a definition of the word “partial.” He wrote to Joe Torre, MLB’s chief baseball officer and former Dodgers manager, “looks like some rules makers cannot go by their own rules.”
Major League Baseball released a statement that explained that its network and Twitter accounts “regrettably caused confusion.” Gonzalez felt aggrieved that the sport shifted the blame to its media entities, rather than accepting responsibility.
He was still chafing over the situation on Wednesday morning in the Dodgers clubhouse. His teammates may have found his plight hilarious, but Gonzalez could not see the humor.
“It’s not good to be back,” Gonzalez said. “But it’s good to be the hell out of that tournament.”