What Olympic baseball, softball will look like for the first time since 2008, and perhaps the last time
With the Tokyo Olympics postponed to 2021, OlympicTalk is taking a sport-by-sport look at where things stood before sports were halted and how global circumstances could alter the Olympic picture …
Baseball and softball are in the Olympics for the first time since 2008, but won’t stay there.
This is, for now, a one-time-only return to the Olympic program. Baseball and softball were among a handful of sports added for the Tokyo Games only, proposed by organizers given the popularity within the host country.
Paris 2024 chose not to propose baseball and softball. The IOC could re-add baseball and softball to the regular Olympic program before the 2028 Los Angeles Games, perhaps if 2021 goes well. Or, LA organizers could copy Tokyo and propose the sports be added for their Games only.
The U.S. qualified for Tokyo as a favorite in softball. Baseball is a different story.
The Tokyo field will be six teams in each sport, down from eight at the 2008 Beijing Games. The softball field is already set. Japan, which won the 2008 Olympic title, got in as host. The U.S. took the next spot by winning the most recent world title in 2018 (over Japan in an extra-inning final). Italy, Mexico, Canada and Australia round it out.
In baseball, the U.S. gets up to three chances to qualify. It missed on the first try, the Premier12 event in Tokyo in November. The U.S. was stunned by Mexico with an Olympic spot at stake. The next qualifier was to be a North and South American event in Arizona in March, but that was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Top competition there was to come from Canada, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. If the U.S doesn’t get the lone spot available at the rescheduled tournament, it could try at the last-chance, global qualifying tournament.
Softball’s biggest names will be in Tokyo. Baseball’s likely will not.
The already named U.S. Olympic softball roster includes two well known pitchers from the previous Olympic generation -- Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman, who combined to throw every U.S. pitch in the 2008 Olympic final. And Rachel Garcia, the 2018 and 2019 NCAA Player of the Year from UCLA.
Despite Bryce Harper‘s adamant wishes, active MLB players are not expected to be made available for the Olympics. MLBers were never part of the Olympics in the previous medal generation from 1992 through 2008. It was always minor leaguers or college players, though some went on to All-Star careers (Jason Giambi, Nomar Garciaparra, Roy Oswalt, Stephen Strasburg among them). In the first round of qualifying, the U.S. team was made up of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players. For the second round (before it was postponed due to the coronavirus), MLB reduced restrictions, allowing players on 40-man rosters, but likely not active 26-man roster players.
This could benefit Japan, whose domestic league is expected to take an Olympic break in 2021, granted some Japanese superstars are in MLB (Shohei Ohtani, Masahiro Tanaka). By the way, Ichiro, before he retired from MLB, ruled out bidding for an honorary spot on the Olympic team.
Familiar names are still lining up for Olympic baseball, though.
If the U.S. does qualify, it could have five-time MLB All-Star outfielder Adam Jones as an option. Jones, one of five Americans to play at each of the last two World Baseball Classics, signed in December to play in Japan’s domestic league with an eye on attaining Olympic eligibility.
Another MLB All-Star, retired second baseman Ian Kinsler, made aliyah over the winter to fulfill Israeli citizenship requirements. Israel had a magical run to qualify for the Olympics for the first time last September. Yet another, retired first baseman Justin Morneau, was originally named to Canada’s team for Premier12 before withdrawing due to an unspecified setback. Six-time All-Star slugger Jose Bautista showed reported interest in playing for the Dominican Republic in Olympic qualifying, perhaps also as a two-way player.
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