U.S. ends with bangs, bronze
BEIJING -- This was not the way the United States wanted to bow out of Olympic baseball: playing for the bronze medal at 10:30 in the morning under a blazing sun.
“Ten o’clock feels more like a spring training game,” U.S. Manager Davey Johnson said.
Minor leaguers are used to playing spring training games, though. So it was no surprise when three of them -- Jason Donald, Matt LaPorta and Matt Brown -- homered, leading the U.S. to an 8-4 rout of Japan and a third-place finish in what, for now at least, is being billed as baseball’s last appearance in the Olympics.
The sport, along with softball, was voted out of the 2012 Games in London although the International Olympic Committee will consider returning both to the schedule for 2016 when its executive board meets next year. But if baseball is to come back, the U.S. will have to do better than sending just minor leaguers, suggested Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee.
Korea and Cuba formally brought things to a close in Beijing in the gold-medal game Saturday night. However before the U.S.-Japan game had even started, the lobbying for reinstatement had begun. Rogge, the Belgian-born president of the IOC and a former Olympic yachtsman, sat behind the plate watching the contest as Harvey Schiller, president of the International Baseball Federation, explained the difference between a curveball and a fastball.
“I know the basic rules,” Rogge said with a smile. “I know the legends.”
And he wants the legends in the Olympics.
“It would do good for baseball, like every sport, to have the stars,” suggested Rogge, who named Alex Rodriguez as one player he would like to see in the Games. “We have LeBron James in basketball. We had Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson. That trend has continued in basketball. And we have all the stars of the NHL.
“So we would love to have as many stars of the major leagues as possible.”
But making current big leaguers eligible for the Olympics would require some big concessions on the part of Major League Baseball, because the Games are usually played just as the pennant races are heating up. The NHL got around that problem by suspending its season for the Winter Olympics and timing hasn’t been a problem for the NBA because the Summer Games take place during the off-season.
“I think it would be great,” Johnson said of having major leaguers in the Olympics. “But baseball is such a big business in the United States. Players with potential to play in the big leagues aren’t allowed to come.”
In Japan, baseball is also big business and its season is also entering the stretch drive this month, yet that country still managed to put together an Olympic team of all-stars from its two professional leagues.
Rogge said American baseball has to find a way to do that too.
The IOC, Rogge said, will consider adding two sports to the calendar for the 2016 Games with karate, roller sports, rugby, squash and golf joining softball and baseball among the applicants. And among the factors that will weigh heavily on the IOC voters is whether each sport’s top players will participate in the Olympic Games.
“I would like to be optimistic and hope that in 2016, we will have a chance again,” said right-hander Brandon Knight, one of the few players on the U.S. team with any big league experience. “It maybe carries a little more responsibility to really show how important baseball is, not only to America but also to the Netherlands, to Cuba.
“It is a great sport and it’s a great way for us to show some American pride, obviously with it being our pastime.”