Time for Canada to look in mirror

BOB ELLIOTT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

Team USA took a charter flight to Miami from Pearson International late last night.

"When this thing started I really thought Canada would be coming too," USA manager Davey Johnson said before his team played Venezuela at the Rogers Centre to decide second-round seeding for the World Baseball Classic.

PLAYED WELL

"Canada hit the ball against us and pitched us tough," Johnson said.

Two days after the Rogers Centre rocked with 42,314 in attendance for a 6-5 loss to the USA, the Canucks were upset 6-2 by Italy before 12,411 in the same atmosphere as the final home game of a regular season for a team which had already lost 100 games.

"Playing in your home country there is a tendency to get up for the first game," Johnson said. "After that, with only 12,000 people ... that's tough.

"I thought people would see Canada play Venezuela. That's why Ernie Whitt was saving his best arm for that game."

Scott Richmond, Canada's best -- not a 20-game winner, but still its best -- flew to Tampa and Blue Jays training camp in Dunedin without throwing a pitch in the tourney.

Now fans want Whitt fired.

It's good fans are passionate about Canada. But fire Whitt? Firing Whitt would be like me getting fired by The FAN. Whitt is employed by the Philadelphia Phillies and will manage class-A Clearwater this season.

We don't know the exact amount he'll be paid by Canada, but in 2006 it was $5,500.

When Whitt joined Canada for the 1999 Pan-American Games in Winnipeg he was paid a plane ticket and meal money. That's it.

Now, he's in the same spot Venezuela manager Luis Sojo was in 2006 after Venezuela lost 7-2 to Cuba and 2-1 to the Dominican Republic in the second round.

"That's baseball," Sojo said. "I know Whitt. He tried to win. He had a plan and stuck with it. You can't blame a manager for everything. I went through that three years ago. We're in this for a love of baseball, not for money."

Chipper Jones, who walked off head down after Canada stunned USA 8-6 in 2006, was shocked that Italy eliminated Canada.

"I did not foresee Italy coming out of nowhere, what's that saying about anything can happen in one game?" Jones said. "It was difficult for Canada when most of their arms were so young. If they have Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden, Jeff Francis, Erik Bedard and everyone else, I don't think there is any doubt Canada advances.

"Canada might have won the whole tournament."

Felipe Alou, manager of the Dominican Republic, woke up today with something in common with Whitt.

"The Netherlands beat the Dominican not once but twice," said Curtis Granderson, who travels the world preaching all that's good with baseball.

"When I speak I always say it's not like football where the biggest, fastest and strongest team usually wins. Anything can happen in baseball."

It's a good thing national team director Greg Hamilton didn't have to call players to play for their country today. But it won't be long.

The next international event begins Sept. 8 when Canada competes in a four-team, World Cup qualifier with the Netherlands, Korea and host Sweden using minor leaguers.

After the Dominican was eliminated, Alou said it was time to re-evaluate how his team was put together as he had three shortstops in Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Tejada. Johnson would like to see changes too.

"If we win straight through we could play eight games in 17 days," Johnson said.

TOUGH POOL

"This was a tough pool though. International competition is better than people think. Italy and the Netherlands are the best in Europe and they are always playing Cuba. Throw in a few major leaguers and Italy had a pretty good team."

Canada now has a better sense of that, but mostly it's time to look in the mirror.

BOB.ELLIOTT@SUNMEDIA.CA


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