After striking out twice, baseball and softball officials are counting on a combined bid to get back into the Olympic Games.
Following International Olympic Committee (IOC) vote defeats in 2005 and 2009 as separate sports, baseball and softball have merged into a single confederation as it competes against wrestling and squash for a single spot on the 2020 Olympic program, which will be decided by a Sept. 8 vote in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“We wanted a partnership that could work together and use the attributes of both of our sports,” said Don Porter of the US, the co-president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation.
“We’ve got an awful lot of young female athletes all over the world that are playing our sport and there’s a commercial side that baseball has that really strengthens our bid,” Porter said.
“So if we put it together, it’s a very strong added value to the Olympic program,” he added.
The biggest obstacle to the bid is its failure to guarantee the presence of Major League Baseball (MLB) players.
MLB commissioner Bud Selig has said the season will not be stopped to free players for the Olympics, but the confederation points out that there is plenty of room for negotiations — seven years — if it makes the cut.
“We never asked MLB to stop the season,” said Riccardo Fraccari, the Italian co-president of the confederation.
The bid proposes separate men’s baseball and women’s softball events of eight teams each, played as back-to-back six-day tournaments. That is a slightly different format from when baseball and softball were last played at the Olympics, at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Baseball gained full medal status at the 1992 Barcelona Games and softball followed four years later in Atlanta, Georgia, but both were dropped from last year’s program in a 2005 vote.
As things stand now, Fraccari is hoping some MLB players would come even if MLB does not stop.
“That’s precisely why we chose such a short program — to permit all pros who want to come to do so — and that doesn’t apply only to MLB players, but to players in all the major professional leagues around the world,” Fraccari said.
However, as New York Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki — who recently passed the 4,000-hit mark in a career split between Japan and the MLB — pointed out, baseball already has a successful international tournament for professionals with the World Baseball Classic (WBC).
While supporting the Olympic bid, he suggested it should be strictly for amateurs.
“They really need to make that division of amateurs to professionals,” Suzuki said through an interpreter. “Some countries are going to have all amateurs, some countries are going to have few. Some teams can then say: ‘Well, we lost because we didn’t have any of our professionals in that game.’ So they just need to make it clear — amateurs are going to be here, professionals play in the WBC.”
Pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin, who is in the middle of a breakout season with the Los Angeles Dodgers and helped South Korea to gold in Beijing, favors a more open approach.
“Each country should decide on that,” Ryu said of the pros versus amateurs debate.
There are plenty of countries to decide, with baseball a top sport in the Americas and throughout much of Asia. It is growing in Europe, too, as evidenced by strong performances by the Netherlands and Italy at this year’s Classic.