Baseball will return to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The International Olympic Committee executive board voted Wednesday to bring back baseball and softball to the Summer Games after not including them in 2012 or the upcoming '16 Games.
"We are excited about the IOC's announcement restoring baseball and softball to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a news release. "Baseball and Softball are global sports that belong in the Olympics. We are grateful to the IOC executive board, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee and the World Baseball Softball Confederation for their collective efforts, which will allow fans throughout the world to again enjoy Baseball and Softball on the Olympic stage."
While many wonder about the possibility of the United States sending Major Leaguers to the Olympics, MLB officials have indicated that they would be reluctant to put the league on hiatus in the middle of the summer. It is much more likely that Team USA's roster in Tokyo will consist of Minor Leaguers, similar to last summer's representation at the Pan-American Games.
Japan, the host country, is expected to stop the Nippon Professional Baseball schedule during the Olympics and send its best players. The same is likely true for South Korea, which won the gold medal in 2008, the last time baseball was in the Olympics.
Baseball has a sporadic history with the Olympics. Though the sport made its Olympic debut in 1904 and was played in several other Summer Games, it was only considered an exhibition through 1988.
Baseball became an official Olympic sport at the 1992 games with an eight-game tournament, and it was part of five consecutive Olympics before being voted out, along with softball, following the Beijing Games in 2008.
"Today's decision is an important milestone in the sport's history and a momentous day for baseball/softball's estimated 65 million athletes in over 140 countries, as well as millions more fans around the world," said WBSC president Riccardo Fraccari. "On behalf of the WBSC and all the athletes, I would like to express our deepest gratitude to the Tokyo 2020 leadership for putting their faith in our sport to begin with; to IOC president Thomas Bach, whose Olympic Agenda 2020 vision has made this opportunity a reality; and to all IOC members for recognizing the valuable contribution the sport can make to the Olympic Movement.
"A key part of baseball/softball's popularity is the universality of the sport. It offers an accessible route for young people all over the world to play and stay in sport."
The U.S. won the 2000 gold medal behind a three-hit shutout from future Major Leaguer Ben Sheets. The Americans also earned bronze in 1996 on their home soil in Atlanta, and in 2008. Cuba was the most successful country, winning the 1992, '96 and 2004 gold medals.
Softball made its Olympic debut in 1996 after several attempts to get included in the games. The U.S. has won three of the four gold medals awarded in the sport, losing the gold-medal final to Japan in 2008.
"USA Baseball is thrilled that baseball and softball have been reinstated onto the Olympic Programme," Paul Seiler, Executive Director/CEO of USA Baseball, said in a statement. "We believe that baseball and softball add tremendous value to the Olympic Movement, and we are excited to validate this show of support at the Olympic Games in 2020.
"We appreciate the work done by the International Olympic Committee Executive Board and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee in supporting this endeavor. We look forward to working with the leadership of the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) to further showcase our global game."
Cash Kruth is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth. MLB.com columnist Jon Paul Morosi contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.