There’s no crying in baseball, particularly right now. Not only is baseball coming back to the Olympics this summer but it’s bringing Major League players with it.
The World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) announced it had reached an agreement with Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) to permit players on MLB 40-man rosters to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the respective qualifiers.
The subject of MLB team members not being able to participate in the Olympics has been a sore one. At past Games, the U.S. baseball roster did not include active MLB players. The governing body’s philosophy (which had merit) was that teams would be gutted of their best players at the high point of the season, which would be disruptive. It was also seen as being a threat to spectator attendance at games.
The inclusion of MLB players on the U.S. team would exponentially increase the nation’s chance to qualify for and medal at the Summer Games.
As a side note, MLB, unlike the NHL, has never shut down its season nor made players on 25-man rosters available for Olympic selection. And it was only in 2018 that the (hotly debated) decision was made not to send NHL players to the Winter Olympics and to keep the season moving throughout that time. The NHL recently announced its intention to have its players sit out the Olympics a second time.
As part of the agreement, National Team roster sizes will increase from 24 players to 26 for the upcoming WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier in Arizona (March 22-26 in Surprise and Tempe, USA) and the WBSC Baseball Final Qualifier (June 17-21 in Taichung and Douliu, TPE) to safeguard the health of the players and prevent potential fatigue. (The latter qualifier had originally been scheduled for April 1-5 but was moved to the later date because of concerns over the coronavirus.)
Per the MLB-MLBPA-WBSC agreement, National Teams will be able to select any MLB-affiliated player, except those on active MLB 26-man rosters.
So what does this mean for this summer (aside from star players likely being in Tokyo, if their teams qualify for the Olympics, obviously)?
It might just help some of the more skilled Minor League players who could find their place in the majors during the Olympics. And with MiLB needing all the visibility it can get right now, that’s a welcome thought.
The possibility of MiLB players being able to catch the eye of fans on a bigger stage creates an excellent opportunity for cities to publicize and root for those players this summer, and to bring more fans to stadiums for events like sendoffs and watch parties.
"The return of Olympic baseball and softball is expected to be one of the main attractions of the Tokyo 2020 Games,” said WBSC President Riccardo Fraccari, “and we -- on behalf of our sport and athletes worldwide -- are doing everything we can to make it the most exciting and competitive Olympic baseball event ever."
Road to Tokyo 2020
The eight participating nations in the WBSC Americas Baseball Qualifier in Arizona include host and world No. 2 USA, Canada (No. 12), Colombia (No. 14), Cuba (No. 8), Dominican Republic (No. 10), Nicaragua (No. 15), Puerto Rico (No. 11) and Venezuela (No. 9). The winner of this qualifier will earn a place in the 2020 Olympics.
The six teams competing in the WBSC Baseball Final Olympic Qualifier in Taiwan include host Chinese Taipei (No. 4), along with Australia (No. 6), China (No. 21), Netherlands (No. 7) and the second- and third-place finishers from the Americas qualifier. The winner of this qualifier will earn the sixth and final quota of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic baseball tournament.