When Russell Martin dropped out of the World Baseball Classic, Canadian teammates Brett Lawrie and Justin Morneau criticized his reasoning. Martin would play shortstop for the team, but wouldn’t go as a catcher.
In the wake of the onslaught, Martin told The Globe and Mail that his body wasn’t prepared to catch a minimum of three consecutive games at the WBC and that he felt obliged to be in camp learning the ways of the Pittsburgh pitchers, a team that had signed him to a two-year contract as a free agent.
“If that was his reasoning, and if the shortstop stuff hadn’t come into it, I would have seen no problem with it,” Morneau said, in an interview at the Minnesota Twins camp. “Obviously we went there to win and we wanted to put the best possible team on the field. But we all have an ultimate responsibility for six to eight months with our teams, and if he had said all along, that he needed to be with the Pirates, we would have understood.”
While Morneau and Lawrie felt passionate about their involvement, Martin downplayed the WBC, pointing out that the rosters of Team USA and others, including the ultimate champion Dominican Republic, had been weakened by dropouts. Due to a limit on pitches and the timing of the tournament with many players not at peak form, Martin believes the WBC isn’t a true test of talent.
“When I said I wasn’t going to go, it was like a relief, knowing I was in a spot I needed to be in, feeling good about my preparations leading up to the season,” Martin said. “I really felt good. That’s when I knew I made the right decision. I thought it would feel bad not going, but that’s not what I felt. I felt, these are the guys I’m going to be around for the next couple of years, and those are the guys that matter, right now.”
Lawrie and Martin both bat right-handed. When Lawrie was injured prior to the tournament, Canada lost its two strongest bats from that side, in a left-handed-heavy batting order. Canada was eliminated by Team USA in its third and final game. “It hurt us, not having him there,” said Morneau, who singled off Twins closer Glen Perkins in the sixth inning of that 9-4 loss, with Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer behind the plate.
Martin was stung by the public criticism he received and said it would have been better if the players had talked privately. Morneau hasn’t spoken with Martin about the matter yet. The Pirates play the Blue Jays in Dunedin on Tuesday, though Lawrie is being held out of action with the same ribcage injury.
“I’ve known Russ a long time and we get along well,” Morneau said. “Obviously hindsight is 20-20. He felt he needed to be in Pirates camp.”