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Bryce Harper wants MLB players in Olympics; here’s what Rob Manfred has said

Bryce Harper

CLEARWATER, FLORIDA - MARCH 07: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies looks on in the dugout against the Boston Red Sox during a Grapefruit League spring training game on March 07, 2020 in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

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Count Bryce Harper, the Philadelphia Phillies outfielder, as somebody who would prefer to take a break during an MLB season to play in the Olympics.

MLB has never participated in the Olympics, which always fell during the regular season when baseball was part of the regular Olympic medal program from 1992-2008. It will be staged at the Tokyo Games in 2021, but not in 2024.

It could be proposed to be added by Los Angeles Olympic organizers for the 2028 Games, which would require an IOC approval, as would any proposal for baseball to return to the regular Olympic program.

As in 1992-2008, the Tokyo Olympic baseball tournament is expected to include minor leaguers but nobody on active MLB rosters. When IOC members voted baseball out of the Olympic program -- by a 54-50 vote -- one of the strikes against it was lack of MLB participation.

“You want to grow the game? You want to really take it to different countries and different places? You put the baseball back into the Olympics but let the big-league players play,” Harper said on a Barstool Sports podcast published this week. “That is an absolute joke to me, and I’ve said it a million times.”

After baseball was added to the Tokyo Olympics back in 2016, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred repeated that he didn’t see MLB changing its stance from prior Games and allowing its stars to take part.

“I can’t imagine a situation where we would take the kind of break that would be necessary to have our best players in the Olympics,” Manfred said in 2017. “As a result of that, we feel the WBC [World Baseball Classic] is crucial as a substitute, a premiere international tournament that allows our players to play for their countries.”

The World Baseball Classic is baseball’s flagship international tournament, held every four years (and next scheduled in 2021) outside of the MLB regular season. MLB stars participate.

“I’m taking the WBC out,” said Harper, who has never competed in the World Baseball Classic. “I’m not a big WBC guy. That’s not the Olympics. I’m not saying it’s bad. Seeing USA win it last time was awesome.”

The U.S. has yet to qualify for the six-team Tokyo Olympic baseball tournament, getting upset by Mexico in the Premier12 tournament in November. That U.S. team was made up of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

For the next Olympic qualifier, originally scheduled for March, MLB expanded eligible players to include those on MLB 40-man rosters (but not active 26-man rosters). That qualifier was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m not saying this is disrespect to any minor leaguers or anything like that,” Harper said. “The 2020 Olympics in Japan, in Tokyo, and you’re not sending big-league guys? Are you kidding me? You want to grow the game as much as possible, and you’re not going to let us play in the Olympics because you don’t want to cut out on money for a two-week period? Like, OK, that’s dumb.”

Harper noted that the NHL took a break in its season every four years to participate in the Winter Olympics from 1998 through 2014.

Japan’s top league is expected to take a break in its season for Olympic participation. But Japan’s biggest baseball stars, like Shohei Ohtani and Masahiro Tanaka, are in the MLB and are in line to miss the Games.

“Everybody watches the Olympics,” Harper said. “I remember huddling around, when I was younger, Winter Olympics, Summer Olympics, watching Michael Phelps do his thing, watching Shaun White do his thing. You know, you’re seeing all this stuff and all these freaking people come from every single country watching cross-country skiing.”

Many players who eventually became MLB stars participated in the Olympics, including Mark McGwire and Barry Larkin in 1984, when baseball was a demonstration, non-medal sport. More recently, Jason Giambi and Nomar Garciaparra (1992), Troy Glaus (1996), Roy Oswalt and Ben Sheets (2000) and Stephen Strasburg (2008).

“They need to figure it out because there’s no greater place to grow the game than the Olympics. Not even close,” Harper said. “Why not shock the world and put all your big leaguers back into it?”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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