It’s great seeing baseball back in the Olympic games for the first time since 2008 in Beijing, it truly is great.
However, there’s one thing glaringly obvious when watching the Olympic action on the diamond. This is far from the best the world of baseball has to offer and the Olympics are supposed to be the best of the best competing for gold.
Baseball is struggling for its future. A 2019 study done by Optimum Sports showed that the average of fans who tune in to nationally televised baseball games is 57. That mean’s the future for baseball is bleak if the sport doesn’t do things to help gain a new and younger audience.
One way to potentially gain an audience would be getting the best athletes in the sport into the Olympic games. Now it’s already been announced that baseball (and softball) will not be competing in the 2024 Paris games. That’s truly unfortunate, but baseball is not a very popular game in Europe, which led to the sport being eliminated from the Olympics. It was brought back in 2020 for the Tokyo games because of its mass popularity in Japan. It’s not official yet, but there’s hope that the sport will return to the 2028 games in Los Angeles.
Major League Baseball must do everything it can to get big leaguers to those 2028 games. The sport needs the potentially different audience and for baseball to continue being in the Olympic games, as the global sport it is it probably needs more known faces than Tyler Austin and Bubba Starling.
Nothing against the current Team USA baseball roster, it’s the best the country could do without MLB players being available, but it’s a mixture of minor leaguers (most who aren’t even top prospects) and MLB has-beens like Todd Frazier, Edwin Jackson and David Robertson wanting to go out with an Olympic medal or hoping to catch the eyes of an MLB needing a veteran.
Imagine what the Olympic baseball tournament could be with Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Jacob deGrom representing the USA. Imagine if the Dominican Republic, one of the great baseball nations in the world, could run out Fernando Tatis Jr. instead of old-timer Jose Bautista. Imagine if the home country of Japan could have had Shohei Ohtani both at the plate and on the mound for these games.
It would’ve been must-see TV for baseball fans and could’ve been what it takes to get a few more eyes watching the game for the second half of the season. I’m sorry, but 36-year old Melky Cabrera and journeyman catcher Tim Federowicz aren’t going to get any people excited about the game. It wouldn’t surprise me if MLB fans aren’t even tuning in for these games.
What would it take for Major League Baseball to get the superstars into the Olympics?
Well, a few obvious concessions would have to be made.
First, the players would have to be interested. I think they would be. All Stars of MLB show up and give their all when the World Baseball Classic, last held in 2017, is held. I’m sure they would certainly be as interested in playing for their countries for a coveted gold medal.
The biggest issue for MLB would be halting its season for the games. The NBA has always been fortunate enough to have the Summer Olympics held during its natural offseason so pros could compete. The comparison MLB has is the NHL, who in the past has stopped its season for two weeks so its professional hockey players could compete in the Winter Olympics ice hockey tournament. The NHL didn’t do this for the most recent Winter games in 2018 but has announced plans to do so for the 2022 games in Beijing.
It might be a bit of a hassle for MLB to fit 162 games into a season while taking two weeks off, but it’s doable. The league could either start the season early, end the season late (or a combination of both). It could also forego the All Star Game every Olympic year and make the break longer.
Sure, there’s the risk of injury that might deter players and the teams from wanting them to compete midseason, but again the NHL does this midseason, and it rarely seems to be an issue. Also, I’m sure MLB could see the benefits to the game long term outweigh the negatives.
I know MLB players in future Olympic games would be a great thing for the future of the sport, and it would also make the Olympics that much more exciting. MLB, please make it happen by 2028.