Baseball could return to Olympics

Baseball could return to Olympics

HOUSTON -- There's a chance that baseball could be reinstated as an Olympic sport in time for the 2012 Summer Games scheduled for London, a top ranking MLB official said on Tuesday night before the White Sox played the Astros in Game 3 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted this past July to drop baseball and women's softball. Baseball was ousted by a 54-50 vote, but baseball officials are hoping to push for another vote in February when the Winter Olympics are scheduled for Turin, Italy.

Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief executive, attended a meeting of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) this past weekend in Switzerland that included several voting members of the IOC and said he was pleased by the response.

"We presented the issues," DuPuy said. "This is not just about the U.S. or MLB. Baseball is the national sport in 14 different countries and everyone wants a chance to continue to participate in the Olympics. I feel pretty good about getting back in."

Baseball has been criticized in Olympic circles both for MLB's reluctance to interrupt its regular season to send the best players to Olympic competition and for the league's difficulty in instituting a drug testing system. At an IOC meeting in Singapore in July, IOC members voted on each summer Olympic sport, the first such review of the sports program. Top baseball officials say they were assured baseball would not be ousted. But the membership voted to drop the two sports, the first such action since polo was removed from the Games in 1936.

"[IOC president Jacques] Rogge assured us that there was no problem," said DuPuy, who attended that meeting with Sandy Alderson, then outgoing executive vice president of baseball operations, and John Moores, the majority owner of the Padres. "We were all shocked when the vote came down and I think Rogge was surprised as well."

There are now 122 individual federations in baseball playing nations around the world as opposed to just 60 in 1990, and 16 of them will be represented in next year's World Baseball Classic, scheduled to be played in Japan, the U.S. and Puerto Rico from March 3-20. That tournament will be the first internationally to include Major League players.

To get baseball reinstated, more than one-third of the 115 IOC members would be required to submit a motion for a new vote. Half the members would need to agree to the motion and then a majority vote would reinstate the sport for 2012. If that does not happen, baseball can try again in four years to be returned to the program for 2016.

Four years ago, the IOC allowed baseball and softball to maintain their active status through the 2008 games in Beijing, China.

The Chinese, who earn an automatic berth in the eight-team Olympic tournament because they are the host country, used that as the impetus to develop a professional league and national team for the first time since baseball was banned during the cultural revolution of the 1960s.

The first qualifying tournament for the 2008 games is scheduled for next month in Phoenix, where Davey Johnson will manage Team USA.

Baseball is a relatively young Olympic sport.

It joined the Games in 1984 in Los Angeles as a demonstration sport and earned medal status eight years later during the 1992 Games at Barcelona.

Since then, Cuba has won three of the four gold medals with the lone exception being a loss to Team USA in the championship game of the 2000 Summer Olympics at Sydney, Australia. That U.S. team, which included such current Major Leaguers as Houston's Roy Oswalt, Milwaukee's Ben Sheets and Washington's Brad Wilkerson, was the first to include Major League-affiliated players outside the 25-man rosters of each big league team.

That team was managed by the Dodgers' Tommy Lasorda, the Hall of Fame skipper who is now a special consultant to owners Frank and Jamie McCourt.

Almost since those 2000 Olympics, the IOC has been engaged with MLB about the future use of Major League players and has been threatening to drop the sport. IOC officials point to the fact that the NBA has sent players during its offseason to the Olympics since 1992 and the NHL has even taken a break in regular-season schedule to send its players to the recent Winter Olympics and will do so again to participate in Italy.

Baseball supporters headed off a movement to dump the sport in 2002 when Rogge decided to drop a vote because of procedural issues.

DuPuy said that sending Major Leaguers to the Olympics is not the only issue.

"There's just not a real understanding among some of the IOC voters about baseball's standing in the world," DuPuy said. "But I'm optimistic. This is changing."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.