Recapping the first 5 World Baseball Classics

March 22nd, 2023

Since 2006, baseball players have convened from all over the world for a tournament like no other: the World Baseball Classic, which returned for its fifth iteration in 2023.

As we anxiously await the 2026 Classic, here is a brief history of each of the first five World Baseball Classics:


Standings: 1) Japan, 2) United States, 3) Mexico
Championship game: Japan 3, USA 2
MVP: Shohei Ohtani (Japan)

The 2023 Classic ultimately pitted the defending champs from the United States against an undefeated Japan, the only team to have won multiple WBC titles through the first four tournaments. Consequently, it also forced a face-off between superstar Angels  teammates Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout in a pivotal moment, with the USA down a run with two outs in the ninth. In their first-ever matchup, Ohtani came out on top with a strikeout to clinch Japan’s third WBC title -- which also made Japan the second team to go undefeated in a single WBC.

That clash of titans in the championship game was just the cherry on top of a truly remarkable Classic. The first round saw Puerto Rico toss an (unofficial) eight-inning perfect game against Israel and the Czech Republic and Great Britain each recording their first WBC wins, and despite Team USA ultimately finishing in second place, Trea Turner tied a single-tournament record with five home runs.


Standings: 1) United States, 2) Puerto Rico, 3) Japan
Championship game: USA 8, Puerto Rico 0
MVP: Marcus Stroman (USA)

In 2017, Team USA finally took home the Classic hardware. The U.S. defeated Puerto Rico 8–0 in the championship game behind six shutout innings from Stroman. He made three starts for the U.S., posting a 2.35 ERA. Stroman’s dominant performance earned him MVP honors for the tournament, although it was center field Adam Jones who authored the defining moment of the event with his home run-robing catch during an earlier must-win game against the Dominican Republic.

The 2017 Classic wasn’t without Cinderella stories and stunning rallies as well. After trailing 9-5 in the bottom of the ninth of their first-round matchup, Italy scored five runs without making an out against Mexico to complete the comeback. Team Israel, hardly the baseball powerhouse, started out the tournament 4-0 before falling to the Netherlands and Japan in the second round.


Standings: 1) Dominican Republic, 2) Puerto Rico, 3) Japan
Championship game: Dominican Republic 3, Puerto Rico 0
MVP: Robinson Canó (DR)

Behind stellar performances from Fernando Rodney (seven saves), Adrian Beltre (four home runs, and tournament MVP Robinson Cano (.469 AVG), Team Dominican Republic beat Puerto Rico 3-0 to take home the 2013 WBC crown. Despite falling in the finale, Puerto Rico was the first team to take down back-to-back Classic champion Team Japan. The Dominican Republic was the first (and to date, only) team to go undefeated throughout the tournament.

In a surprising turn, Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin led the underdog Team Brazil out of the qualifying rounds to the main field of teams before being eliminated in the first round.


Standings: 1) Japan, 2) South Korea, 3) Venezuela
Championship game: Japan 5, South Korea 3 (10 inn.)
MVP: Daisuke Matsuzaka (Japan)

For the second straight tournament, Team Japan took home the trophy. And once again, Matsuzaka was at the heart of their strong showing. The crafty right hander won the WBC MVP award for the second tournament in a row, finishing with a 3-0 record and a 2.45 ERA over 14 2/3 innings with five walks and 13 strikeouts.

In the championship game against South Korea at Dodger Stadium, Japan rode a dominant performance from Ichiro Suzuki, who had four hits and two RBIs, including a two-run, 10th inning single to seal the Classic.


Standings: 1) Japan, 2) Cuba, 3) South Korea
Championship game: Japan 10, Cuba 6
MVP: Matsuzaka (Japan)

After starting the Classic off 1-2, Team Japan rallied behind star pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka to win the first edition of the World Baseball Classic. Before the 2006 classic, Matsuzaka was little-known outside of his home country. That all changed after Matsuzaka was crowned MVP of the tournament after pitching 13 innings and posting a 3-0 record, including a win in the finale against Cuba during his four inning, one run outing. The following year he made his Major League debut with the Boston Red Sox.

Despite featuring a who’s-who of star players, including Derek Jeter, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr., Chipper Jones, and many others, Team USA failed to get past the second round of the tournament after losing to Mexico and Korea.