The Summer Olympics open in London on Friday, but don't expect to cheer for athletes from two of our country's best summer games. Baseball and softball had their last hurrahs in 2008 and they won't be played in 2012 or the 2016 Games in Brazil, either. It's a sad situation, but it's a fact of life after a primarily European committee ousted them in a 2005 vote.*
*It's here where I'll again point out how happily the hypocritical IOC gorges itself on NBC's contract money but then does something like cut softball because Americans won the first few go-rounds.
The current situation caused the International Baseball and Softball Federations to announce over the weekend that they were joining forces in a bid to get the sports back on the docket for 2020. The official idea is that their combined resources will help both sports get readopted in the future.
The real interesting headline, though, is that new organization appears intent on placing the hopes of both sports on Major League Baseball's willingness to allow its players to participate in the 2020 Olympics. Both the ISF's Don Porter and IBF's Riccardo Fraccari say they only really stand a chance if the world's best baseball stars commit to the cause.
"Most people tell me that without commitment from MLB, it's not going to work," Porter said. "It would certainly strengthen our bid if the MLB says they will commit their players."
Pro baseball leagues in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Australia are committed to taking part.
"We have to be realistic about how MLB can release their players," Fraccari said.
The Italian proposes a shortened Olympic tournament that could be completed in five or six days, making it easier for major leaguers to play. He also raised the possibility they could be released to play just for the semifinals and final.
Both men said they have an Aug. 1 meeting with MLB to discuss the possibility of this actually happening. There's officially only one spot on the 2020 roster open and both baseball and softball will have to compete with time-honored international pastimes like karate, wakeboarding and something called wushu.
Hey, make fun of wushu all you want, but there's probably a better chance of Bryce Harper representing the United States wushu team in 2020 than playing outfield for a gold medal contender. For one, there's no way that Bud Selig is going to undercut his World Baseball Classic pet project as it still struggles to get off the ground. For another, there's zero chance that any owner will agree to surrender prime weekends on their schedule for a venture that won't put a single dime in their pocket.
(Perhaps you could make the argument that the league wouldn't have to shut down as only a few players from each team would actually be participating in the Olympics. But this isn't soccer. Baseball fans actually expect to see their stars when they show up and pay for a ticket.)
And, yes, then there are also the players. Reception for the first two editions of the World Baseball Classic has been lukewarm at best among professional players. And that tournament is played before the season, when the WBC actually provides an alternative to playing an endless streak of meaningless spring training games. Can you imagine the reaction of players to the idea of traveling to another continent for a tournament that will still rank at the bottom of the IOC's priority list, even if they agree to participate? It's laughable. There is no way it's going to happen.
The vote to reinstate the sports will be held in September 2013 and I think both Porter and Fraccari would be best served finding another route back in. While they might think the other paths are improbable, they're nowhere near as impossible as getting professional players signed on for 2020.