Commissioners discuss baseball's possible return to Olympics, pace of play
By Mark Newman
SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Thursday was not only the first day of the MLB Draft, but also a summit meeting of two powerhouses in global baseball. Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred hosted his Nippon Professional Baseball counterpart Katsuhiko Kumazaki for a wide-ranging discussion of such mutual interests as baseball's possible return to the 2020 Summer Olympics and pace of play, and then the latter watched with interest as the former read the first-round selections at MLB Network.
"This is the first time for me to come and watch the MLB Draft, and I was really impressed with my view of their feeling," Commissioner Kumazaki said. "It is different from our Draft, and I'm also impressed with the players themselves here."
The two Commissioners have something else in common in that both recently took office. Kumazaki assumed Japan's top position in 2014, and Manfred took over MLB's top post in 2015, after Bud Selig's retirement. Both said their relationship is an important one.
"We've known each other for several years," Kumazaki said, "and it is always good to exchange ideas about everything -- including the international games like the [World Baseball Classic] -- the youth program, player contract issues, pace of the game issues. I am always looking forward to meeting with him at least once a year. I feel that he always shows me respect and trust, and that is really appreciated."
"We talked about a variety of things," Manfred said between picks during the first round. "We have a common interest in a lot of these topics. We talked about pace of play at some length, we talked about attendance, we talked about television ratings -- what they were seeing, what we were seeing -- we talked about the WBC. We are very pleased that Japan committed early to the WBC and they are excited about their participation. And we did have an extended conversation about the Olympics."
Baseball and softball were removed from the Olympic program after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Japan will host the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, and the International Olympic Committee is "modernizing" its program and soon will announce new sports for 2020. Many people believe the diamond sports will return, especially given their place in Japan.
"The sport of baseball is the national pastime in Japan, too," Kumazaki said. "It's a culture, and at the same time, Olympics, the Japanese people love it. ... So to Japanese people, Olympic baseball is a love-and-love interest. Japanese people have a great interest in Olympics and probably all of Japan will celebrate when and if baseball comes back in the Olympics. I am looking forward to it.
"Together with the professional and amateur organization in Japan, we have been putting forward our best effort to help baseball back to the Olympics. These are all things I explained to Mr. Manfred this morning."
Kumazaki asked Manfred about the prospect of Major League players participating in the 2020 Olympics should the sport be reinstated. When asked about that possibility, Manfred said it is too early to speculate.
"The vote is going to take place, and it's an IOC decision. It's really not an MLB decision," Manfred said. "We will meet with the international baseball and softball federation people before the final vote to have a conversation about exactly what the program looks like, and at that point we will have a conversation with the owners about what we can and can't do.
"We think the Olympics is a really important event, and we think baseball being in the Olympics is really good for the sport. But until we know a little bit more about what the program is, how long the tournament is going to take, I'm just not going to comment on what's realistic and what's not."
Kumazaki was told that Ichiro Suzuki had just singled, one of two hits at Minnesota to give him 2,973 in the Majors following 1,278 hits in a nine-year Japanese career. He said he will "give full consideration" to honoring Ichiro in some way on his eventual 3,000th MLB hit.
"It is exciting to know that," Kumazaki said. "I have known Ichiro for so long, and I've always had great respect for him, and not only me, but all Japanese people have the great respect for him. I am looking forward to him achieving his 3,000th hit in Major League Baseball."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.