By PETER C. BJARKMAN*
HAVANA TIMES, January 15 – As part of its newly revamped public image the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) has now filled a long-standing void with release (January 13, 2009) of its first-ever World Rankings of top baseball nations. And the resounding chant of “We’re Number One!” can clearly be heard from the streets of Havana and Santiago.
The standings for the first rankings cover international performances for the last four-year period (2004 Athens Olympics through 2008 Beijing Olympics) and are based exclusively on cumulative point totals earned by member baseball federations in IBAF-sanctioned events at all levels (junior and university-level tournaments, male and female, through top level Olympic and World Cup events).
The first-ever standings take into account a four-year window that encompasses not only the last two Olympic tournaments, but the much-vaunted first MLB World Baseball Classic of 2006, and also two World Cup competitions in 2005 (Netherlands) and 2007 (Taipei). Cuba, as expected, enjoyed a comfortable margin of better than 160 points over its closest rival, Olympic bronze medalist Team USA.
Recent Olympic champion Korea challenged the Americans and edged the Japanese for third mainly on the strength of double gold in 2008, in Beijing and at the AAA 18U Junior Worlds in Canada. Asia paced all continents in the rankings with three countries in the top five (Korea 3rd, Japan 4th and Chinese Taipei 5th).
The USA surged into the runner-up slot despite the disappointment of missing the Olympic finals, while the remainder of the Top Ten included The Netherlands, Canada, Mexico, Panama and Australia.
The inaugural IBAF rankings have been developed in conjunction with Scott Goode, SID at Harding University (Arkansas, USA), with teams/countries assigned a point total based on results of each IBAF event: 50 for first, 40 for second, 30 for third and 15 for fourth. After fourth place, points are divided evenly among all other finishers to assure balance between tournaments featuring vastly different-sized fields.
Points awarded for a country’s/team’s finish are then multiplied by a strength factor to weigh properly the highest level events: major world events receive a 4X multiplier (these include the Olympics, IBAF World Cups, the World Baseball Classic, and the IBAF Intercontinental Cup). The Intercontinental Cup has been slatted for demotion to “minor tournament” status in 2010. More minor world championship tournaments (junior, youth or university world titles or the Haarlem Honkball Week and Rotterdam World Port Tournament) are assigned a 1X multiplier. Other continental tournaments receive multipliers of anywhere between 1X and 0.25X, depending on how many teams (i.e. countries) from the Top Ten of the current rankings are entered.
The Top Twenty Finishers in the IBAF 2008 World Rankings are as follows:
1. CUBA (941.50 Points), Olympic and World Cup Silver Medalists
2. USA (779.82), 2007 World Cup Champion
3. Korea (719.32), 2008 Olympic Champion
4. Japan (661.00) 2006 WBC Champion
5. Chinese Taipei (427.50)
6. Netherlands (278.57)
7. Canada (262.19)
8. Mexico (238.93)
9. Panama (197.64)
10. Australia (191.43)
11. Puerto Rico (155.82)
12. Nicaragua (123.50)
13. Italy (118.88)
14. Venezuela (90.60)
15. China (89.68)
16. Spain (69.50)
17. Dominican Republic (69.00)
18. Brazil (41.50)
19. Germany (36.32)
20. South Africa (33.93)
Finally we have a rankings poll without a great deal of controversy attached. Cuba’s recent domination over the international baseball scene (to say nothing of is long-standing five decade domination of world tournaments) has now been rubber stamped by a reasonable and balanced system of quantification. And this is not a mere ranking of “amateur” baseball competitions, since the top professionals and big leaguers have appeared regularly in the most heavily weighted events of the past four years.
The only true surprise in these standings would be the lowly status of Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, countries often somewhat overvalued as baseball hotbeds simply because of the number of professional prospects they feed into USA big league professional camps.
But these IBAF standings are the proof in the pudding of what happens to domestic programs which (unlike Japan or Korea) don’t take either international matches or home-based domestic leagues seriously, and also do not prevent literally all their native talent from being pilfered by wholesale raids from North American professional scouts.
There may be many “big leaguers” from Venezuela and the DR now in California, New York and Chicago, but there is very little that is “big league” in any way about the shoddy national baseball that is left within the borders of Venezuela and the DR themselves. Professional leagues may generate huge revenues and entertain millions as a spectacle in the USA and Canada, but when it comes to baseball as a world sport the center of gravity has quite clearly long-since shifted to Asia and the Caribbean (especially Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Panama and Nicaragua).
The new IBAF rankings will now be a fixture on the scene and also an excellent yardstick of national baseball pride throughout baseball-loving nations. And we won’t have to wait another full year for another eye-opening ranking to appear. The IBAF plans to release new rankings, in fact, at the conclusion of each future sanctioned major IBAF event.
Stay tuned then for the WBC, which now takes on added motivation, especially in Cuba, Korea, Japan and Taipei. Whether the jockeying for world standings will grab much attention in the United States–where it is still false gospel that a true and meaningful “World Series” (rather than a mere North American professional tournament) takes place each October in MLB stadiums–is a matter yet to be determined, and not very likely to be quickly forthcoming.
*Peter Bjarkman’s website with a world of Cuban baseball can be read at: www.bjarkman.com