Baseball's foot in Chicago's mouth?
It is possible to interpret a Major League Baseball official's statement about the sport's presence in future Olympics as an attempt to pressure the International Olympic Committee into selecting Chicago or Tokyo as the 2016 Summer Games host.
Chicago and Tokyo boosters can only hope that is not what Bob Watson intended when he spoke during Wednesday's teleconference to announce the 2008 U.S. Olympic team. But it would not be a stretch to read Watson's comments that way.
The Olympic news website Around the Rings (subscription required) did, headlining its story "Major League Baseball Makes Pitch for Chicago, Tokyo for 2016 Olympics."
One thing is sure: IOC members react negatively to any attempts at pressuring them, especially when such attempts come from the United States. And particularly when they come from a sport like baseball, which has utterly no leverage in the Olympic movement as it prepares for its final scheduled appearance at the Beijing Games.
Watson holds the titles of Major League Baseball's vice-president of on-field operations and USA Baseball general manager of professional teams.
Here's what he said, as transcribed from a recording of the call:
"MLB and the IBAF [International Baseball Federation] and the IOC are working diligently to have a system where our big leaguers are playing. I think if Chicago or Tokyo would win the Olympics for 2016, I think those countries are baseball countries, they have venues.
"I believe they're trying to work up something. You've got two years [before an IOC decision on adding sports] to get the plan together. There are lot of moving parts in this, but don’t rule it out. Instead of a three-day break for [the] All-Star Game, you might end up having a four- or five-day break, and get all the games in, some kind of way, and using major leaguers.
"It's not too premature to say they've got the minds turning, trying to work things out. I think some of the obstacles, [like] drug testing, we definitely have met a lot of those requirements. I think the other thing is that we are putting on a real good showing around the world with baseball, and I believe the Olympics are going to definitely want to have baseball back in the fold. We have the World [Baseball] Classic now, and that popularity is only going to grow. We feel baseball is going to get back into the Olympics.''
The IOC in 2005 voted baseball off the Olympic program, meaning that the Beijing Games could be the sport's Olympic swan song. The next chance for baseball to be reinstated would be immediately after the IOC chooses the 2016 host on Oct. 2, 2009. Chicago, Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro are the candidates.
The IOC's reasons for dropping baseball include the sport's unwillingness to interrupt its season so major leaguers could play during the Games. The IOC also had questions about doping because MLB's doping program remains something of a joke by Olympic standards.
A day before Watson spoke, baseball commissioner Bud Selig told reporters that discussions with the IOC were "ongoing." He seemed to rule out any extended shutdown for the Olympics.
If the Games were in Tokyo, the travel and time difference involved would likely involve a shutdown of the season for at least a week.
It would be ironic if such statements as Watson's came back to haunt Chicago or Tokyo, since baseball adds nothing to the Summer Games. The Games already have too many sports (soccer, tennis, men's basketball) in which an Olympic gold medal is a secondary prize to trophies like the World Cup, Wimbledon and NBA title.
And baseball will do just fine without the Olympics.
-- Philip Hersh