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Baseball makes its pitch for the Olympics

Four years ago, baseball was told that, after 2008, its presence was neither requested nor desired in the Olympics. Since then, the International Baseball Federation has tried hard to get it back in. Today the IBAF made its pitch for 2016, and for what I think is the first time, got some concessions from Major League Baseball that may help its chances:

There would be no major league games on the day of the Olympic medal games.

There would no MLB games broadcast at the times of Olympic Games, which means Olympic baseball would create a schedule to have its games end before MLB night games begin.

Even though MLB does not intend to stop its season during the Olympics, there would be a ``representative number of the best players available (for the Games).''

The International Baseball Federation would work with Olympic host cities to finance construction and after-use costs of the two stadiums needed for the five-day tournament, which would not be an issue for 2016 candidates Chicago and Tokyo, since they have stadiums.

There was a sense in 2005 that the reason baseball (and softball) were axed from the games was that they were too thoroughly dominated by America (see here). That may have been true for softball -- the U.S. women at the time were unrivaled, and though that has changed somewhat since then, the American women are still the best -- but it was always a dubious claim with respect to baseball given the high quality of Latin American and east Asian teams. Many suspected that the decision was really a cultural/political one, with IOC President Jacques Rogge taking what was then a quite fashionable anti-American position. I don't know if that really was the case -- people talked of the lack of Olympic-quality drug testing in baseball at the time as another issue too -- but stranger things have happened with the Olympics.

The announced concessions, however, seem not to address any Olympic-specific problems with baseball. Rather, they seem to address some of the criticisms voiced about the World Baseball Classic, where the lack of participation by many of the best baseball players was seen as a serious drawback (personally I think the injury risk is a bigger drawback, but I'm not the biggest fan of international baseball, so maybe I'm unique in that regard). If that was a concern, however, these concessions don't seem to do too terribly much to solve it. What exactly does it mean that Major League Baseball will ensure that "a representative number of the best players available" will play? How on Earth could they do this? The 2016 Olympics will take place during the height of the baseball season. Even if the games are played in Chicago -- one of the possible sites -- I can't see any team in contention allowing their best players to go play for Team USA, Team Dominican Republic, or Team Japan when so much is on the line in the regular season. They can't force them to participate, can they?

According to this article, karate, roller sports, golf, rugby sevens, softball and squash also are seeking spots on the program, and no more than two of them will be chosen. If baseball in the Olympics means that my team is going to lose its shortstop or setup man for a couple of weeks, consider me rooting for squash.