MLB could send stars to Olympics

MLB could send stars to Olympics

Baseball officials gave members of the International Olympic Committee assurances on Friday that an effort will be made to send some of the game's best professional players if it is reinstated for the 2016 Summer Olympics as a gold medal sport.

Accordingly, a statement from Commissioner Bud Selig was read into the record at the meeting of the IOC's program committee in Lausanne, Switzerland.

"The 2016 Olympics will have the best representation of professional players in Olympic history," said Selig, whose current contract as Commissioner ends in 2012, when he's 78 years old.

Officials from Major League Baseball and the International Baseball Federation in attendance said that everyone would pull together to make it happen. No decision about baseball's status was determined at the session and won't be until a vote on Oct. 2, 2009, at the IOC Congress in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The selection of the 2016 venue will also be announced during that meeting of the IOC Congress. Chicago, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Madrid are the four finalists, and all are prepared to incorporate baseball in their programs.

Baseball and women's softball were voted out of the Summer Games in 2005 and won't be played at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

On Friday, a panel of 20 IOC representatives, none of them from the U.S., listened to baseball's 30-minute presentation and then asked questions for another 30 minutes. Prominent among the questions were the quality of players to be made available and the problems of scheduling an Olympic baseball tournament while MLB is in the process of conducting its regular season.

The IOC members made it clear that they do not expect MLB to stop its season. And Harvey Schiller, the president of the IBAF, responded that MLB was willing to not schedule any games on the day of the gold medal Olympic baseball game to give it the maximum television exposure.

The form of the Olympic baseball tournament and how baseball deals with scheduling issues are pending and will depend on what continent the Summer Games are played on during a particular Olympic year.

"[Best players] was something they were really focused on," Paul Archey, MLB's vice president of international business operations, said in a phone conversation after returning to New York from the meeting on Friday night. "The Commissioner's statement is our position. They were really receptive to that. Best players are hard to define in a tournament that's eight years away. You don't know where the Olympics are going to be or who's going to qualify for it."

Representing baseball was Archey, Schiller, Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson and several members of worldwide baseball federations.

Baseball was first up at the meeting, leading a group that included softball, roller sports, rugby, golf, squash and karate. Aside from baseball and softball, none of the other sports have ever participated in the Summer Olympics.

The IOC is adding two sports to the 2016 Games, bringing the total represented to 28.

Granderson showed the commission Mark McGwire's baseball card as a member of Team USA in the 1984 Summer Olympics, the games in which baseball was unveiled as a demonstration sport. That tournament was played at Dodger Stadium. Granderson also gave each member a copy of his own 2008 baseball card.

"Growing up, I had two dreams," Granderson told the committee. "One was to play at the highest level and the other was to play for my country. I have gotten one with the Tigers and now I'm hoping to get the second one, maybe even in my hometown of Chicago in 2016. And I think many other players feel the same way."

Since 2000, MLB has sanctioned players outside the 25-man rosters of each Major League team to participate in the Olympics, and Team USA has won the gold medal during the 2000 Summer Olympics at Sydney, Australia, and a bronze this past summer in Beijing.

MLB's best players haven't participated in the Summer Olympics, but they have all been urged to play in the World Baseball Classic, which had its inaugural run in 2006 and is slated again for next March 5-23 in seven venues within and outside the U.S.

Schiller, a former head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, was upbeat about Friday's meeting.

"Today was a good day for the sport of baseball," he said. "I think we answered all the questions as to why baseball deserves to be back in the Olympics and presented a very compelling case from the grassroots through to the highest level of professional baseball around the world.

"We remain consistent with what we have said to the IOC. We will work with everyone to make baseball a successful and meaningful part of the Olympic experience."

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.