Masahiro Tanaka, an All-Star starting pitcher formerly with the New York Yankees, is now eligible to play for Japan’s Olympic baseball team at the Tokyo Games.
Tanaka, 32, returned to Japan’s domestic league rather than sign a contract with the Yankees or another MLB team for the 2021 season.
Active MLB players have never participated in the Olympics, which always fall during the regular season.
The NPB is taking an Olympic break during its season. Baseball will be one of the host nation’s most popular sports given its rich history in Japan.
Tanaka, if he is named to the national team, would be one of the most recognizable Olympians not only in the host nation, but also to American sports fans who followed his career with the Yankees the last seven seasons.
Tanaka, then 19, was the youngest man on Japan’s roster at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the last Games to include baseball. The Japanese lost their semifinal to South Korea and the bronze-medal game to the U.S.
Other fellow All-Stars Adam Jones (U.S.), Ian Kinsler (Israel), Jose Bautista (Dominican Republic) and Adrian Gonzalez (Mexico) have expressed interest in Olympic baseball. The U.S. has yet to qualify for the Tokyo Games.
It’s believed that two players with prior MLB All-Star experience competed at the Olympics for any nation — Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.
Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.
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