Baseball appears set to return to the Olympics for the 2020 Tokyo Games. Major leaguers may balk.
“It’s not going to happen. I don’t think it’s fathomable,” Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw said.
Astros shortstop Carlos Correa wasn’t sure he’d play for a gold medal even if he could.
“2020 will be my year before free agency,” he said. “We’ll see in 2020 what my situation is, and we’ll go from there.”
Baseball became a medal sport for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics but was dropped for the 2012 London Games and won’t be played this year in Rio de Janeiro.
With the 2020 Games in Japan, where baseball is popular, the International Olympic Committee executive board voted this week to support a six-nation tournament that year in both baseball and women’s softball. The full IOC is to vote in August.
Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant is torn.
“I wore ‘USA’ across my chest one time in college, and it was an awesome experience. It’d be fun to do that again,” he said. “But baseball season’s so long the way it is. You play 162 games and to add another two weeks, I don’t know if it would be the best decision for ourselves and our bodies.”
Because the Tokyo Olympics are from July 24-Aug. 9, Major League Baseball would have to interrupt its schedule, a 162-game-in-183-day grind that has little flexibility unless owners and the players’ association are willing to cut games — and lose revenue.
“I will not comment until I have a chance to review the recommendation,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday.
Speaking to the Associated Press Sports Editors in April 2015, Manfred sounded reticent.
“The Olympics are a challenge because of the calendar,” he said then. “They are particularly a challenge when the site is halfway around the world and the date falls in the middle of our regular season.”
He urged the World Baseball Softball Confederation to push for inclusion in multiple Olympics, which could become a bargaining position in negotiations among MLB, the MLBPA and the IOC.
“Conceptually, I think it would be good for our game, for baseball generically defined, to be an Olympic sport,” Manfred told APSE. “I think it would be a mistake for our sport to make an arrangement with the Olympics whereby we go in for Tokyo and not have some commitment that the Olympics were going to commit to baseball over the longer haul.”
The IOC wants the top players to appear in the Olympics. The NBA has sent its players since 1992 and the NHL since 1998 — although the NHL has not yet committed for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
At the 2008 Olympic baseball tournament, only those not on 25-man big league rosters as of late June were allowed to compete. The American prospects there included Jake Arrieta, who struck out seven over six innings to beat China. Stephen Strasburg defeated the Netherlands and lost to Cuba, which eliminated manager Davey Johnson‘s team in the semifinals.
“With regard to professional players competing in the games, as we have stated publicly in the past, we are committed to finding the best possible and most reasonable solution for 2020,” union head Tony Clark said.
Wedded to routine and used to the comforts of spacious big league clubhouses, baseball players are reluctant to divert from their norm. It has taken effort from management and the union to persuade them of the benefits of regular-season games that have been played in Australia, Japan, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
“You could get a quality representation of each country if you were open to it,” San Francisco catcher Buster Posey said. “I think that would be the problem, getting everybody on board. I think it’d be pretty difficult — not just players obviously, but owners and management.”
MLB and the union are partners in the World Baseball Classic, a quadrennial tournament for national teams whose fourth edition is scheduled for next March. But with the Olympics, they wouldn’t split any revenue. And teams likely would lobby for certain players not to risk getting hurt while with national teams.
And then there is the problem of inactivity for players who don’t go to Japan during an Olympic break.
“It depends on if the players not playing with those national teams would be OK with it, having those two weeks off,” said Minnesota outfielder Max Kepler, who has played for Germany. “They’d probably be a little rusty from all that.”
Baltimore’s Adam Jones thinks there are just too many obstacles for major leaguers to participate.
“I think it would have to be Triple-A guys,” he said.