The Paul MaColumn: The WBC needed Israel, the newest great sports story

If you’ve been watching the World Baseball Classic, it definitely means two things:

  1. You have MLB Network.
  2. You were, for at least a smidgen, intrigued by Team Israel.

Israel, though now eliminated, had one of the most — if not the most — captivating run in the WBC’s short history. The team just qualified for the tournament for the first time this year, and certainly hasn’t had the kind of storied baseball culture Cuba, Japan or the DR have, or the kind the Netherlands pretends to have with all its territories. But Israel certainly followed through on that underdog status.

Though Israel came up short of making the semifinal, making it out of the first round (by winning all three games) and blowing out some opponents was enough to grab baseball’s attention.

Sports fans, and especially baseball fans who romanticize everything, love a good underdog story. Charles Pierce wrote in Sports Illustrated in May that the Cubs winning the World Series would be “the last great American sports story.” He made some interesting points, noting how one by one the longstanding sports holy grails spanning over generations were being attained. But at the time of reading, and now, I’m confident he was wrong in the premise.

Though the Cubs winning the World Series will forever be my favorite great American sports story, it’s certainly not the last. They’re always being written. Anthony Rizzo catching the throw from Kris Bryant to end game 7 may have been the end of that story, but the beginnings and middles of others are unfolding right now.

Israel, though a small story, is a nice little reminder of that. One hundred eight years is a long time, making the Cubs story incredible. And same for the Boston Red Sox in 2004, or the Cleveland Browns whenever they win the Super Bowl. But I like to think baseball is forever, so 108 years from now the stories should still be pretty good.

The WBC needed that story in the tournament. It has struggled to expand its reach, and a run like Israel might just be what it needed to generate interest for the future. That is, assuming you have MLB Network.

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