Clayton Kershaw
Getty Images

MLB players may balk at Olympic baseball

Leave a comment

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.

MORE: Best baseball players to play in Olympics

A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
Getty Images
Leave a comment

When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

MORE: Simona Halep, Nadia Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Another Jesse Owens Olympic gold medal being sold

Jesse Owens
AP
Leave a comment

One of Jesse Owens‘ four 1936 Olympic gold medals will be put up for sale next week by Goldin Auctions.

Owens triumphed in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany at the Berlin Games, taking the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

This could be the second Owens gold to be sold in recent years, after one was auctioned in 2013 for $1,466,574, the highest price ever for a piece of Olympic memorabilia.

Two more were said to be put up for auction in 2017, but there are no widespread reports of sales actually happening.

This gold medal was gifted by Owens to John Terpak, a U.S. Olympic weightlifter in 1936 and 1948, after Terpak helped Owens garner speaking engagements, according to Goldin. The previous gold that sold for $1.4 million was gifted by Owens to a different friend.

Terpak died in 1993 and passed the medal on to his son and daughter, who consigned it to Goldin.

The medal is part of Goldin Auctions’ Holiday Auction from Monday through Dec. 7 on GoldinAuctions.com. The listings also include Tommy Lasorda‘s autographed lineup card from the 2000 Olympic baseball gold-medal game.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Sun Yang should get lengthy ban if he loses doping hearing, WADA says

Images via Goldin Auctions:

Jesse Owens Olympic Gold Medal Jesse Owens Olympic Gold Medal