Manfred, Clark see 'amazing' Classic only gaining momentum

March 23rd, 2017

LOS ANGELES -- The top executives of Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association conducted a joint news conference on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium, an hour before the start of the United States' 8-0 triumph over Puerto Rico in the championship game of the World Baseball Classic, and they were asked for their opinions on this year's installment of the tournament.

Both MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark raved about the global event, and they said they are already anticipating the next one, which will likely be in 2021.

"I can't tell you how pleased I am, and I'm sure Tony feels the same way, about the way this event has gone," Manfred said. "I was thinking about it on the way over here. You have rosters literally overflowing with the best players in the world. We've had crowds that not only were record crowds but had passion that -- it's hard to think where you saw something that good the last time. I mean, just really amazing."

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

Clark agreed, pointing out that the quality of play that has been on display throughout the three rounds and among the 16 clubs has been outstanding -- more compelling than the level of competition typically seen in mid-March.

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"As I talked to the guys that are playing now and even the guys that have played before, you truly appreciate the opportunity you have to represent your country on this stage at this time for our game, in an effort to continue to move our game forward and achieve something that very few have had an opportunity to achieve on behalf of your country," Clark said. "It's been an exciting ride, all culminating tonight."

Both Manfred and Clark said the Classic has come through with exactly what was desired when it was devised and embarked on its first go-round in 2006: steady growth and fan interest, unbridled national passion and emotion from players and fans, not to mention, of course, terrific games on the field.

"I think the interest in this country has been really strong going back to Miami," Manfred said, referring to the Pool C first-round games at Marlins Park. "I mean, we had a sellout crowd for the U.S.-Dominican game. I was there for that game. Fantastic atmosphere in the stadium. We had some great crowds down in San Diego. We're going to be above 50,000 here tonight.

"I think that the event as a whole … just because of the U.S., but because of the way the teams, in general, have played, the quality of play has attracted a lot of attention here. I like to use the analogy of the Ryder Cup [golf event]. It took time for the Ryder Cup to become what the Ryder Cup is today, and it is going to take time with this tournament.

• Full transcript: Manfred, Clark discuss Classic before final

"But each and every time, it's been better. There's been more traction, more interest. I think we're kind of at a watershed [moment] with 2017, with how good it's been. But I really do firmly believe we will continue to build momentum with this event."

That seems to be mounting with MLB players. Clark said he anticipates new, exciting star players to eagerly become first-time participants in the next Classic because of what they watched this year.

"Even in the first round, your phone starts to buzz a little bit, where guys start to second-guess whether or not they should have or could have participated," Clark said. "It's not a surprise. It actually happened in 2013 as well."

Manfred added that the energy in ballparks crackled throughout the Classic and should only percolate more as the tournament grows.

Manfred and Clark were also asked about the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, when baseball and softball will return as medal sports. They would not speculate on whether Major League players will be able to participate, saying they still had to engage in preliminary conversations with the federations of those sports "about timing, format, qualifiers," as Manfred put it, and to go from there.

Manfred and Clark were also in agreement that the World Baseball Classic is yet another example of MLB's commitment to growing the game globally, and that now that the two parties have a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, they can put their heads together and come up with additional exciting opportunities worldwide.

"I think it really does create an opportunity for us to do more internationally, which I know is a shared goal between the Commissioner's Office and Tony's office," Manfred said.