Officials confident of Olympic return
Orza, others hoping 2008 not baseball's swan song
BEIJING -- Gene Orza, chief operating officer of the MLB Players Association, was about 10 rows back behind home plate in the "Olympic Family" seats at Wukesong Baseball Field 2 on Thursday and shaking his head.
In front of him, Stephen Strasburg, a possible No. 1 overall pick in the next First-Year Player Draft, was dealing. The right-hander from San Diego State was putting down one Dutch batter after another on his way through seven innings of one-hit ball in the United States' 7-0 victory, showing how the game is played.
This is the sport, along with softball, being removed from the roster for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. This is one of the players millions and millions of fans likely will be paying to watch in coming years.
"What's the deal with men's and women's air pistol, and all the gun events?" Orza asked. "There are something like 20 medals in shooting. I guess people have guns.
"Here you have one of the most popular sports in the world."
Orza was here along with Harvey Schiller, executive director of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) and former head of the U.S. Olympic Committe, as well as John Ostermeyer, secretary general of IBAF and highly influential voice around International Olympic Committee circles for years. Schiller said earlier this week that he is optimistic baseball and softball will return to the Olympics with action afoot to make it happen, and he was told by President George W. Bush during Monday's China-U.S. exhibition, "We'll get it back."
"We all hope he's right," Orza said.
They were all relayed comments by Major League Baseball president Bob DuPuy published Thursday on MLB.com from the owners' meetings back in Washington, and they explained what those further steps are that are being taken to engineer a return vote in Copenhagen in October 2009. Ostermeyer said he and Schiller meet next week with the IOC Program Commission, which makes recommendations and evaluates all sports on a range of criteria. They are essentially lobbying on an ongoing basis with the various IOC members who are strewn about these Olympics at the various events.
"If the facts prevail," Orza said, "we have the better case. The sport has Olympic-level popularity now."
"What most people don't realize is that the vote to remove baseball happened at Singapore in 2001," Ostermeyer said. "It's not about getting Major Leaguers. It's very important to understand that at the time, they did not put another sport in its place. It does give an indication that they are prepared to re-address the matter."
Orza said he does not believe this is about trying to get Major Leaguers into the Olympics. Ostermeyer said, "50 percent of the IOC members are in Europe, and Europe dominates the Olympics agenda. No doubt about it. We want them to know it is a good sport that draws and has done well."
Ostermeyer said that European dominance weighed heavily at a time when the United States went on the offensive in search of weapons of mass destruction. "America was perceived to be war-mongering," said Ostermeyer, an Australian. Orza added, "A lot of them just didn't like us." Ostermeyer noted that the Baseball World Cup is being played next year in Europe, featuring 22 countries, and hosted in seven countries and 27 cities. "It looks like it's going to be televised," he said. "It's a huge event that finishes one week before the IOC makes its decision, and that was not coincidental."
Ostermeyer went into considerably more detail. If you sit down with him at a baseball game here, he will give you a long litany of reasons that he believes the many factions within the IOC had it out for baseball. He also said the IBAF was "tainted" by discussion of whether MLB's athletes had an overall problem with performance-enhancing substances, even though Orza, Schiller and Ostermeyer said Olympic baseball always has been WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) compliant.
"Eight or 10 sports would be out if you applied the same criteria that the IOC applied to baseball," Ostermeyer said. "They haven't kicked [track and field] out despite what happened to Marion Jones." Although Orza said that's "not the issue," Ostermeyer said, "If not an issue, it's an excuse. We are tainted, there is no question, even though MLB is independent from the IBAF. We are being tarnished by a situation we have no control over. History has shown that there have been some issues and you can't ignore them."
As for softball, no one has ever said anything about its removal other than the mere fact that the American women dominate their sport as though they are the only lineup on the planet. Indeed, so far, no one has gotten a hit off them in 2008. Apparently, being the best has its problems. But again, as Ostermeyer said, this is not a recent news story; softball was given the 2012 heave-ho way back in 2001. People are just now getting riled because they are able to watch a swan song and be emotional.
The World Baseball Classic is returning next spring, and Orza said, "Those of us involved in running that event would stand to gain from the absence of baseball in the Olympics. But none of us feels that way. Not playing in the Olympics would be a real unfortunate blow to millions of people around the world."
As to DuPuy's comments about best available players, Orza noted the strength of the current top prospects on this U.S. roster and said, "We have to explore that. It's not entirely clear to me that the absence of talent is the reason. Countries around the world just don't understand how popular baseball is."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.