Now that the whole “amateur” thing is completely out the window for Olympians, it’s now becoming only a matter of time before the American professional leagues begin releasing their athletes for competition. Well, except for football; we don’t think anyone from the NFL is going to the Olympics. Well, unless competitive eating becomes an Olympic event, in which case LenDale White can finally become the worldwide hero he was born to be.
So while the MLB isn’t in for the 2012 Olympics, the 2016 games in Chicago are another matter entirely. With Wrigley Field and the Cell right there in the city and the home stage (as well as seven years to negotiate with owners), according to BIG LEAGUE STEW, the MLB thinks now’s the time to kinda commit to bringing its athletes to the Olympics:
“The MLBPA has and will continue to work … to come up with the best scenario so that more top players will be able to participate,” [Donald] Fehr said, “and fulfill the dream of representing their countries in the Olympic Games. We will make sure that happens, and the 2016 Olympics will have the best representation of players ever to participate in any Olympics.
“I am confident that MLB and the MLBPA … will make available to the qualifying countries a to-be-determined number of top players, with the rest of the roster coming from the best athletes available from the professional ranks. The teams will have a sampling of the best individuals in the sport, and the best-ever representative national teams.”
So yes, it’s a commitment. Sort of. The immediate issue is going to be owners saying “Hang on, this guy’s committed to my club and it’s the middle of the season and I’ll be damned if I’m paying this guy $10 million a year to go play somewhere else. His teammates need him first.” There’s no easy answer to this. The World Baseball Classic, for all its faults, is at least during the offseason; the Olympics figure to take place in the middle of the year, when the day games are plentiful and the fans are most eager to go to games.
Plus there’s the issue of the notoriously invasive drug testing in the Olympics; imagine what happens when a “clean” player in the MLB gets nailed for PEDs by the IADA (OMG WTF BBQ). Yes, Bud Selig says he’s cracking down on steroids, but come on, this is the same sport where Manny freaking Ramirez can get away with roiding for God knows how long and people look at Albert Pujols and say, “if you say he’s clean, then okay.” Ahem.
No, the MLBPA would really, really, really prefer not having to deal with a player getting suspended by an outside agency for drug use, then the MLB punishing him as well. There’s no easy side to take there.
And most of all, like soccer, the real international drama isn’t in the Olympics. It matters more in the World Cup for soccer, and by 2016, it’ll matter a lot more in the WBC for baseball. What’s there to stop a player from saying, “Thanks, but I already represent my country at the WBC, and now it’s the part of the year where I represent my team”? Not much.