The 2017 World Baseball Classic is underway and we’ve already seen some dramatic games. The tournament continues over the next two weeks and will culminate with the Championship Game on March 22 at Dodger Stadium..
In three years, baseball and softball will return to the Olympics for the 2020 games in Tokyo. The two sports were dropped from the Olympics following the 2008 games in favor of golf and rugby sevens. Baseball and softball were officially voted back into the Olympics in 2014..
On Tuesday commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged it is unlikely MLB players will participate in the 2020 Olympics. Here’s what Manfred, who is currently in Japan for the WBC, told Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times:
“There have not been any substantive discussions with the baseball and softball confederation about participation of major league players in the 2020 Olympics,” Manfred said at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Tuesday. “I’m sure that those conversations will take place. We have not even been informed about what exactly the format of the event is going to be, how many days would be involved and whatnot.
“Even in the absence of that information, the skepticism that you’ve heard from some relates to, no matter how you put the event together there would be a significant amount of major league players who would be away from their teams. It would alter the competition in our everyday game. I do not believe our owners would support some sort of a break in our season. Continuity is really important to our competition.”
Manfred did also say it’s possible MLB players will be allowed to play in the 2020 Olympics, though there are hurdles that will have to be cleared for that to happen. Lots of hurdles.
The 2020 Olympics are scheduled to take place from July 24 to August 9, which is right smack in the middle of the MLB regular season. Either MLB teams would have to play shorthanded while some of their players go overseas, or the league would have to shut down for two weeks so players can go to the Olympics. The NHL has done that in recent years.
In 2008, the last year baseball was played in the Olympics, rosters had to be filled out with minor league players. The 2008 USA Olympic team included Dexter Fowler, Jake Arrieta, Trevor Cahill, and Brett Anderson, all of whom were top prospects at the time. Stephen Strasburg, who was still at San Diego State, was the only college player on the roster.
Baseball was played in the 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 Olympics. Cuba won gold in 1992, 1996, and 2004. USA won gold in 2000 and South Korea won gold in 2008. Ben Sheets famously threw a complete game shutout against Cuba in the 2000 gold medal game.
It wasn’t quite the Miracle on Ice, but it was a major upset. Cuba was an international powerhouse for decades prior to their loss in the 2000 gold medal game.
Given the timing of the Olympics, it’s hard to think MLB players will be allowed to participate. Teams aren’t going to want to play shorthanded and the league certainly won’t want to shut down for two weeks. Maybe they can find a happy compromise at some point in the next three years. It just seems so very unlikely.