U.S. team feels big leaguers not needed
Bronze-medal winners want current team setup for 2016 Games
BEIJING -- As they waited to receive their bronze medals following the final game between Korea and Cuba on Saturday, members of the United States baseball team were almost universally displeased with International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge's remarks that Major League Baseball players must be used in some capacity for the IOC to reconsider their sport for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
"We have a lot of guys on our club who have been in the big leagues and who will be in the big leagues in the future," said Jason Donald, the Phillies' Double-A shortstop who hit a two-run homer to complete the big fifth inning of the 8-4 U.S. victory over Japan. "I think it's a shame that was said, that big leaguers have to be on the team to keep it. It's the biggest summer sport there is. I think the people who came out there and watched the games, they saw how exciting it was. I think it's unfortunate that the decision has been made, because this was a great tournament."
Rogge said in an exclusive interview with MLB.com during the U.S.-Japan game that having Major Leaguers for any future Olympic baseball competition is "a big factor." He cited the presence of Roger Federer and Roger Nadal in tennis, LeBron James in basketball, "the best cyclists" and Ronaldinho in soccer. Rogge added that the IOC -- which voted way back in 2001 to remove baseball and softball in 2012 -- is "not saying it should be an entire Major League team, but we want the top athletes here at the Olympics."
Mike Koplove, the Dodgers' Triple-A right-hander who was solid in middle relief during these Games, called that requirement "absurd."
"That's a ridiculous comment," Koplove said. "Our team is as good as any other team here. You can't expect us to stop the Major League Baseball regular season.
"It's a great sport. The stands were packed. You look around, it was an exciting atmosphere every night. It's disappointing. This isn't an event for individual people like he mentioned. There's more to the Olympics than having LeBron or Federer show up. We were competitive every game.
"It's absurd for him to make comments that we need a Barry Bonds or an Alex Rodriguez on this team."
Matt Brown had just hit a three-run homer to tie the Japan game at 4-4 and then scored the decisive run after starting a fifth-inning rally with a double. He said Major Leaguers would not have made a difference in the overall outcome.
"I felt like our team had all the necessities for gold," Brown said. "In baseball, any team can win on any given day. Some things didn't go our way. Some things did.
"As for having to use Major Leaguers, it's not necessary, but that's other people's decision to make. We'll get our medals in the meantime."
U.S. manager Davey Johnson understands the need, and he is well aware of the scenarios that have been bandied about -- possibly creating kind of a "second" All-Star break and rotating in select Major Leaguers for three or four days. Everything at this point is speculation on any process, MLB executive vice president Jimmie Lee Solomon has said, and so at this point, Johnson just answers that kind of question with doubt.
"It's going to be hard, because baseball in the U.S. is a big business," Johnson said. "Unless they find a big break [in the schedule], I don't see them letting them play. I don't see that happening in the near future."
That would mean no baseball back in the Olympics, according to Rogge.
Paul Siler, executive director of USA Baseball, said before the loss to Cuba on Friday -- and before Rogge's remarks -- that whatever is needed to return baseball to the Olympic program in 2016 would be supported.
"If there's a way to get big leaguers in, I'm all in favor of it," Siler said. "But there are a lot of moving parts there. It adds a different element. You have the perspective from the [Major League] teams, but also from the International Olympic Committee. There are agendas, and we all want to do what it takes to get baseball back."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.