Baseball seeks Olympic return

SAN DIEGO, California – Japanese, Cuban and Major League Baseball officials hope the success of the inaugural World Baseball Classic can boost the chances of restoring the game to the Olympics. But having a profitable Classic bring money to Major League Baseball and national programs likely means the elite-level tournament that International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials wanted will remain outside their grasp. «This first World Baseball Classic is a great success and it showed a lot of positives to the baseball world, but I don’t really know how the Olympic committee would perceive this success,» Japanese manager Sadaharu Oh said. «If there’s anything I can do to bring back this great sport to the Olympic Games, I would do it,» the Japanese all-time home-run leader added. The 2008 Beijing Olympics will be the last to feature baseball after the IOC voted out the sport and reaffirmed that decision last month at Turin, Italy. Global sanctioning body International Baseball Federation will lose valued financing after being dropped from the Olympics. The appeal of Olympic exposure never enticed Major League Baseball into shutting down its season for the Games as the National Hockey League has done for the Winter Olympics with great success. Club owners worry about the risk of injuries and also want the elite-level competition to bring them money, much the way FIFA limits Olympic rosters so the event is not seen as a duplicate of the World Cup. «Owners want to play a 162-game schedule and, as long as that’s the case, (a mid-season shutdown) is not really an option,» Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said earlier in the Classic. Of course, with the lack of success major leaguers have had at the Classic, their opinion might not matter so much. Cuba and Japan will meet in Monday’s final with only two Japanese players representing the major leagues and one of those, Ichiro Suzuki, sees no way he could help bring baseball back to the Olympics. «I would like to see the success of this event lead to baseball being back at the Olympics, but I can’t see myself participating in any effort to bring baseball back to the Olympics,» Suzuki said. No nation wants baseball to stay in the Olympics more than Cuba, which has won three of the four Olympic gold medals and lost to the US team in the 2000 final at Sydney the other time. Cuban delegation spokesman Pedro Cabrera offered hope that by uniting the most powerful global supporters of baseball, an answer might be found to reach a deal with Olympic officials. «We’re here not only to face major league players, but also to make our contribution that baseball returns to the Olympics,» he said. «We will have to look for new formulas to improve the international calendar, to think more about the spectacle, but any effort that we do in that way is necessary. The presence of Cuba in the Classic means that when the people communicate they exchange criteria and they unite wills so things that are possible can be obtained.»