Vegas Bettors Yawn at WBC

Can you imagine Bowie Kuhn -- who confronted boycotts, expansion and other big-time labor issues during his 15 tumultuous years as Major League Baseball's commissioner -- dealing with something like this? New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is still alive and he's spinning in his grave over it. The first World Baseball Classic -- the Olympics of baseball, sil vous plait -- involving 16 teams from throughout the world gets underway next week. One giant step for brotherhood, global harmony and single-world thinkers. Ho hum, sports bettors say. Spring training will outdraw it and the Classic has to deal with that annual phenom known as March Madness that drives Sin City into a frenzy. Still, the WBC boasts potential.

"We've had very minimal action on it," said Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook oddsmaker and spokesman Jeff Sherman. "One big problem is the early games are in Japan. "Maybe we'll see more betting when they play here (United States)." Because MLB has both hands in this pie, it sets the rules. Players can't be forced to participate (Where have you gone Paul Konerko?) and teams can't refuse to let them, though it's apparent pressure has been applied in some cases. The Yanks' Gary Sheffield was quoted in one recent Internet story asking, "Can you imagine George Steinbrenner's reaction if one of his multi-million dollar players gets injured?" Still, The Boss had to ease back.

Roger Clemens is one of four starting pitchers on the American team and will open the inaugural series for the United States; Derek Jeter's on the crew too. He has Bernie Williams on Puerto Rico's roster, which also contains standouts Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado of the New York Mets. Others doing patriotic duty include Ken Griffey Jr.

and Derek Lee. Some foreign-born players welcome an opportunity to play for their homelands. The Puerto Ricans originally had 60 players to choose from and have been having difficulty getting down to the mandated 30; their first list included 40 MLB All-Star selections. The Domincans say they have commitments from Sammy Sosa and Manny Ramirez, and that Pedro Martinez has indicated he may be available after Round 1, but Internet stories indicate all three have hinted they might sit out the Classic.

The designated hitter rule will be in play and there are set days of rest for starting hurlers who throw an established number of pitches. A driving force behind the World Baseball Classic is the sport's thumbing from the Summer Olympics. MLB won't let its stars play in the Olympics and problems abound with minor leaguers, including drug-testing issues. Other Olympic standards will be prevalent and the event is slated to be held every four years. The 16 invited teams have been assigned to four pools; the United States and Canada are in Pool B with Mexico and South Africa.

Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan are in Pool A; Puerto Rico, Panama, Cuba and the Netherlands comprise Pool C and Venezuela, Australia, Italy and the Dominican Republic make up Pool D. Four sites will host Round 1 games; two teams from each pool will advance to the quarterfinals. The semifinals, which features the four winners -- one from each site -- and championship game will be played at the San Diego Padres' Petco Park.

Competition starts March 3 and the championship will be decided March 20, avoiding a head-to-head TV clash with NCAA Tournament Sectional play. America goes into action on March 8. While some bet shops, like the SuperBook, have posted WBC futures odds, others, such as the Stardust and additional Boyd Group properties, haven't bothered with them. "We'll probably book the individual games," Stardust supervisor Jake Kolleth said. He also hasn't heard much about the Classic, but points out that doesn't mean there won't be interest by the time the U.

S.A. actually swings into play. "Nobody's asking about it, but they will be when things get going," Kolleth said.

ESPN and ESPN2 will handle American and Canadian Classic TV coverage and its affiliates will be in charge in foreign countries. .

By: Lynda Collins

Baseball World

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