By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Since the Olympics kicked off last Friday with its “Lord of the Dance meets Lord of the Rings” extravaganza, I’ve watched my fair share of these Tape-Delay Games.
And, thus far, I’ve seen archers and badminton players. I’ve seen athletes (athletes?) playing ping-pong and jaunting about on horses. I’ve even seen this curious phenomenon that is synchronized diving.
But I haven’t seen anyone playing baseball. Or softball.
And I won’t. And that’s a shame.
On July 7, 2005, the International Olympic Committee – boasting a heavy European influence – voted baseball out of the London Games, making the sport the first to be banished from the Olympics since polo in 1936.
Although it’s never been officially declared, the prevailing belief is that the IOC decided to bench baseball because of the sport’s sluggishness in adopting a drug-testing program – something that is now in place. And, unfortunately, because of its apparent similarities to baseball – nine players, three strikes and whatnot – softball also found itself on the outside looking into the 2012 Games.
Both sports have also already been declared off the Olympics roster for 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. A vote will take place in September 2013 to fill the one open spot that’s available for the 2020 Olympics.
(Why, by the way, is there a fixed number on Olympic sports?)
Earlier this month, in the hopes of reinstatement, the International Baseball and Softball Federations announced that they were merging to launch a joint bid. However, International Softball Federation president Don Porter explained to the Associated Press, “Most people tell me that without commitment from MLB, it’s not going to work. It would certainly strengthen our bid if the MLB says they will commit their players.”
On Aug. 1, Porter and IBF president Riccardo Fraccari will meet with MLB to discuss the possibility of MLB players playing on future Olympic rosters. But, the Boston Globe reported this week “they face an uphill battle in convincing MLB to allow its players to participate, an increasingly less likely scenario given the World Baseball Classic’s plan to play every two years beginning in 2013.”
I don’t think MLB players should participate in the Olympic Games, as I’m not in favor of stripping stars from their rosters in the middle of a pennant race. And if the IOC is indeed denying baseball – and, inexplicably, softball – a place in the Games because of the reluctance of the MLB to send its players, I find that incredibly unfair.
And flat-out wrong.
Surely, by using some common sense and flexibility, there is a palatable solution. Reportedly, pro baseball leagues in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Australia are committed to taking part in any future Olympic Games. Essentially, those pro leagues are nothing more than farflung minor leagues for MLB.
So, why not have MLB send its top minor leaguers to the Olympics?
They’re professional players, just like big leaguers. They’re enormously talented, just like big leaguers. And fans might very well enjoy seeing the next wave of stars – players they don’t see on TV during the season – take their whacks during the Olympic Games.
Let the Major Leaguers play their own meaningful ones.
Four years ago, while sitting in the stands during the bronze medal baseball game of the Beijing Olympics between the U.S. and Japan, IOC head Jacques Rogge spoke with Mark Newman of MLB.com. During the interview, Rogge discussed various criteria for how baseball could earn its way back onto the Olympic roster.
“To be on the Olympic program is an issue where you need universality as much as possible,” Rogge said. “You need to have a sport with a following, you need to have the best players and you need to be in strict compliance with WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). And these are the qualifications that have to be met.
“When you have all that, you have to win hearts. You can win the mind, but you still must win hearts.”
Baseball has already won hearts across the globe.
And if the IOC has found a way to wrap its own around the likes of badminton and ping-pong, then surely it can get over itself and find a way to allow baseball and softball back into the Olympics fold.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.