Archive for March, 2006

Baseball back to Olympics unlikely?

March 29th, 2006

According to the Dejan Kovacevic of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he thought baseball is unlikely back to Olympics for three reasons.

Dejan, With the conclusion of the World Baseball Classic, my thoughts turn to bringing back Olympic baseball. How much of a chance do you think there is that MLB owners would be willing to copy the NHL and stop the season for the Olympics? I would think the IOC couldn’t resist bringing baseball back under these conditions.

Olympic hockey is much more fun with NHL players than it was before they participated. The every-game-is-crucial atmosphere of the Olympics, coupled with the best players in the world, makes those games as much fun as any Stanley Cup series.

Joe Deffner of Forest, Va.

KOVACEVIC: I love Olympic hockey since the NHL became involved, Joe, and I never have made any secret of that. The true beauty of it, I think, is that so many nations are competitive and take such pride in it. Witness the Finns and Swedes making the final, and not one eyebrow being raised by it.

That might be why I enjoyed the Classic as much I did, too. The games played in San Juan carried an almost-soccer-level joy to them in the stands. (And they were stands, not seats). The players — apart from some of those on the U.S. roster — looked like they took every step to make sure they were in peak form for the tournament. (Ask Salomon Torres why he was throwing his peak fastball way back in minicamp.) And, as was the case with hockey, Cuba and Japan rose up to show that baseball truly is an international game. (Especially Cuba, I think, because of the much tougher path it took to gain the final.)

But baseball back in the Olympics? Very unlikely, I think, for three reasons:

1. The owners are not going to shut down their season even for a week, much less two. They will not want to give up the money at that late point in the season. They will be even more leery of injury than with the Classic. And, unlike the NHL, MLB is not in need of the attention that comes with such a tournament.

2. The IOC really does not want baseball. That is something I saw and heard in abundance when covering the most recent Summer Olympics in Athens. All concerned felt the tournament was awful — which it was, pitting a bunch of Class AA players against each other — and were embarrassed by it. Moreover, and maybe more important, there is an IOC perception that baseball is strictly an American sport. This, of course, led to the IOC decision to dump baseball after Beijing, as well as the remarkably unfair call to throw out softball, too. (The women’s tournament, though thoroughly dominated by the U.S., did, indeed, pit the best against the best.)

3. By all accounts, the Classic did better than expected for a debut in terms of attendance and ratings, and this without the U.S. barely making a dent. That allows MLB to ride this rather than the Olympics as its primary international vehicle, all while keeping control of the proceedings.

All these concern is very reasonable and possible, and is well known by baseball fan including me. However, I still want to have Baseball in Olympics from the bottom of my heart, hope it could come true.

International players have improved baseball

March 27th, 2006

Baseball is indeed to become more and more international and globalization, lots of players in MLB and in Olympics are not born in America. For a sport which wants to be more and more popular, this is necessary and very important.

Below is what Bill Clark of Columbia Daily Tribune said.

When Cuba lost to Japan 10-6 last week in the final game of the World Baseball Classic, U.S. fans were reminded once again that baseball is indeed a world classic.

Two years ago, the United States failed to qualify for the chance to defend its Olympic baseball title, losing to Mexico in the semifinals of the Western Hemisphere qualifying tournament.

Welcome to reality!

This time around, everyone used major league players – at least major leaguers who chose to represent their countries. The United States lost a number of multi-millionaire crybabies but still had the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and an all-star pitching staff. Many of the remaining 16 nations had no major leaguers, including Cuba. Japan had only one big leaguer – Ichiro Suzuki. The Americans were the heavy favorite. Guess which team eliminated them two weeks ago. That’s right – Mexico.

The United States lost to Korea in the first game of the second round pool, then beat Japan on a disputed call and needed only to beat winless Mexico to move to the semifinals. It didn’t happen. So much for millionaires.

Baseball fans and U.S. baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, no doubt, will blame the defectors for the loss. The reality is summed up in a single word – globalization.

Ol’ Clark can speak to the issue of globalization in baseball from a position up close and personal. For almost a dozen years, my job was to find and sign the best non-U.S. players in the world. My work place became the globe.

In 1992, the Atlanta Braves watched the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays work the international market and strike it rich. Ol’ Clark had 25 years of scouting experience in the Midwest and had dabbled in Canada, Central America and the Dutch Antilles.

I became the Braves’ first international director and went about the task of spending Ted Turner’s CNN bankroll. The Braves had a scouting and development program in the Dominican Republic, but almost none elsewhere. It had been a decade since any Dominican player had come through the system to the major leagues.

My job eventually carried me to 50 countries; I learned to grunt and point in a dozen languages. I read a lot about two role models.

Howie Haak had become a legendary scout in the 1950s after the color line was broken. Scouting for Pittsburgh, he worked Latin America, signing Roberto Clemente from Puerto Rico, Manny Sanquillen from Panama and many others who found their way to the major leagues. Howie knew six words in Spanish: Tire duro, corre rapido, comida, cerveza – throw hard, run fast, dinner, beer. And he had a checkbook.

In earlier years, Papa Joe Cambria had worked Cuba, signing players for Clark Griffith and the Washington Senators. Jackie Robinson was allegedly the first black player in the U.S. major leagues in the 20th century. Some of Cambria’s players had more color than a deep sun tan. Who cared? They could play and worked cheap – a requisite for the old Senators.

Even 75 years ago, the globalization of baseball was under way. Ossie Virgil Sr. became the first Dominican to play in the majors half a century ago. Today, 20 percent of the major league rosters are Dominican.

If it weren’t for work visa limitations, no more than 25 percent of major league rosters would be U.S.-born. The Olympic Games and the World Baseball Classic prove my point. Non-Americans fill 30 percent of major league rosters, and the number is growing each year.

Nowhere in labor is the U.S. worker better protected than in professional baseball. Marginal American players get a chance to fill rosters while internationals with more ability never make it to the United States or lose a chance to remain because of visa limitations.

Any noncitizen must have a work visa to play professional baseball in the United States. Immigration officials issue around 1,100 work visas to the major leagues, a small percentage of the 66,000 used primarily by the agriculture and construction industries. With 30 organizations sharing in the limited visa pool, a club can expect between 35 and 40 visas annually.

Most clubs will have as many as 100 international players under contract. They play in rookie leagues in the Dominican, Venezuela, Mexico and Australia. Fewer than half will reach the United States.

Players in those rookie leagues have three years, by major league rule, to advance to the United States. At the end of three years, a player must either receive a visa or be released. International players can sign and play at 16. Thus, far too many still-maturing 18- and 19-year-olds are released and sent back to the cane fields because there is no place for them on the U.S. visa list.

There are some breaks. Canadians are not included in the visa count, but Mexicans are. So much for NAFTA. A player on the major league, 40-man roster is considered a special talent and is no longer replacing an American laborer, thus his visa is not counted among the 35 to 40.

In a free-trade market, if visas were not required, the work ethic and love of the game would allow the alien to move and would send a huge number of gringos home.

Being an international director able to wheel and deal without the restrictions of the baseball draft puts a guy at odds with his scouting peers in the United States. You wondered why U.S. players were signed with large bonuses when they would have been marginal at best in the Dominican or Venezuela or Korea or Mexico. In those places, kids play on bare fields with discarded equipment and mushy baseballs, with no formal leagues and usually no formal coaching. They develop skills far beyond Americans’ because they have no cars, they walk or run everywhere, they throw a ball a thousand times for every dozen throws an American makes. Poverty doesn’t affect them because they don’t know they’re poor; they love the game. I love the international discipline and work ethic.

I’m happy I was a major role player in the globalization of baseball. I’m happy I was able to bring dozens of players from around the world to make Americans play harder. I just wish there had been more visas.

It makes a guy feel good to know he found 15-year-old Andruw Jones in Curacao and started him on a career path that led to the major league home-run title in 2005 and that a dozen other internationals made it to the show because he took a chance on them.

As I watched Japan and Cuba, I felt no remorse for the United States. I knew the Cuban coaching staff and pulled for the Cubans to win. They love the game and play for virtually nothing. I had seen Daisuke Matsuzaka as a 17-year-old in Osaka and called him the world’s best teenage pitcher. He had more female followers than Frank Sinatra in the 1940s. He chose to remain in Japan despite America’s millions.

More power to those who choose the thrill of the grass over the greed of the green.

Cuba Hopes for Reinstitution

March 21st, 2006

Like other Baseball countries, Cuba, who just lost the final game of World Baseball Classic, also hope the Olympic Baseball will still exist in London 2012.

According to Prensa Latina, the Latin Amreican News Agency:

With its showing in the World Baseball Classic, Cuba hopes that baseball is reinstituted in the Olympic Games, starting with the London Olympics in 2012.

By decisión of the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee, the sport of balls and strikes is scheduled to be played for the final time in Olympic competition during the Beijing Games in 2008.

IOC top executive, Jacque Rogge, argued that not all the best ball players were coming to the Olympic Games, as the Majors Leagues did not allow their members to participate.

But Cuban, Japanese, Korean and Canadian Olympians proved at WBC the Olympic baseball competitions have showcased great ballplayers all along.

Korea and Japan eliminated the USA Team, a constellation of Big League aces, in Round 2, while Cuba cruised over the teams of Venezuela, Dominican Republica and Puerto Rico, made up of Big League stars.

“I hope the Classic remains and those responsible for eliminating baseball from the Olympic Games were able to see the great show that baseball is all about,” said Cuban left fielder Frederich Cepeda after the final game in San Diego on Monday night.

For his part, Cuban manager Higinio Velez agreed: “Baseball is ready to return to the Olympic Games, but should do so with the best players, like the World Baseball Classic.”

More than 400 professional players participated in the 16-nation tournament, which exceded the expectations of the organizers: A total of 737,416 fans filled the stands for the 39 games that were played in Tokyo, San Juan, Phoenix, Orlando, Anaheim and San Diego.

Millions tv-viewers from all the continents watched the games, which were broadcast by ESPN, in English and Spanish.

Maybe the World Baseball Classic will become the biggest event for Baseball, but I still hope that IOC can change their mind and let baseball still in Olympics. And baseball will only become greater and greater if Olympic Baseball and World Baseball Classic can play each two year.

Will Classic Resurrect Olympic Baseball?

March 20th, 2006

After World Baseball Classic, the next target of Baseball World is Olympic Games, and it hopes to resurrect Baseball in London 2012.
Below is what Alan Schwarz said on Baseball America:

SAN DIEGO–Reverberations from the World Baseball Classic are being felt for thousands of miles, from the Caribbean Sea to the Sea of Japan. They could also be stretching thousands of days into the future, all the way to the summer of 2012 in London.

The Players Association’s Gene Orza and Major League Baseball’s Paul Archey, the two main architects of the Classic, both said this weekend that the success of the inaugural WBC could cause the International Olympic Committee to reconsider its decision last summer to drop baseball from the Olympics following the 2008 Games in Beijing. Each said that he will make the appropriate overtures to Olympic officials after the WBC final between Cuba and Japan on Monday night.

“There’s a decent shot that in the aftermath of this tournament, people are going to say that this baseball sport has international appeal, and it’s not a solely American enterprise–and maybe it does belong in the Olympics,” Orza said. Added Archey, “You look at the passion of the fans and the interest and the ratings worldwide, and I would think the IOC members have to be questioning whether they made a mistake. Clearly this has international appeal, not just appeal in one or two countries.”

Last July, baseball and softball became the first sports dropped from the Olympic program since polo in 1936. Olympic officials have long frowned on MLB not making any of its top stars or players available for the Olympics–as does the National Basketball Association in its offseason and the National Hockey League during its regular season–instead sending mainly minor leaguers in 2000 and 2004. MLB’s historically lenient anti-doping policies also hurt baseball’s cause.

Orza said, however, that doubts as to baseball’s international appeal also hurt the sport’s image particularly in the eyes of Europe-based voters, who perhaps could be swayed by the success of the WBC. The 39 games will draw more than 700,000 fans, and both Orza and Archey said that the event will recoup its more than $50 million in expenses to turn a profit in its debut.

Orza emphasized that while last summer’s vote appeared to kill baseball for the 2012 London Games, the decision could be revisited: “I know the IOC has the power to reinstate baseball for 2012,” he said, “and that deadline has not yet passed.” Orza said that he did not yet know the specific deadline.

IOC officials could not be reached for comment.

Baseball became a demonstration sport in 1984 and has been a medal sport since 1992. Cuba has won three of the four gold medals since then; the United States won in 2000 with a team of minor leaguers led by current Brewers righthander Ben Sheets.

MLB will certainly continue to not disrupt its season to make major leaguers available for any Olympics. However, Orza said that the WBC proves major league players are not necessary for an appealing, worldwide tournament.

“The Japanese team has two major leaguers on it; the Korean team has five to eight depending on who’s playing; the Cuban team has none,” Orza said. “There aren’t very many American players playing in these final three games. That’s the message–that there are players in the world who are capable of being the best players in the world, who are not major leaguers. So the absence of major leaguers does not necessarily define the value of having baseball in the Olympics.”

Team Cuba spokesman Pedro Cabrera said that his national federation would join any appeals to Olympic officials to reinstate baseball. Speaking through a translator at Petco Park on Sunday, Cabrera suggested that MLB’s reluctance to appease Olympic officials had been the cause of baseball’s disappearance from the Games.

“When the Classic is over, we’ll do an analysis of the whole structure of the event–we will have to do it ourselves, and Major League Baseball will also have to do it,” Cabrera said. Asked if MLB were an obstacle to baseball in the Olympics, he added, “If they are, we’ll have to find a solution to that. I think that the presence of Cuba in the Classic means that when we have communication, we can all come together and make things happen.”

Japan manager Sadaharu Oh pledged to lend his support as well.

“This first WBC event has been a great success–it’s showed a lot of positives for the baseball world,” Oh said. “But I don’t really know how the Olympic committees will perceive the success. If there’s anything I can do to bring back this great sport to the Olympic games, I would love to do it.”

Although plans for the WBC were formally announced just days after the IOC vote last summer–with MLB commissioner Bud Selig nonchalantly claiming, “I don’t know if, frankly, I consider it a blow”–Archey said that the existence of a quadrennial World Baseball Classic did not preclude baseball’s inclusion in the Olympics. He likened the WBC to soccer’s World Cup tournament, which coexists peacefully with the Olympic Games.

Orza said the WBC, which is expected to be held again in 2009 and then every four years, will continue regardless of whether it resurrects Olympic baseball.

“It’s a win-win situation for the tournament,” Orza said of the WBC. “It either does that and has that to its credit, or it doesn’t and it becomes a singularly worldwide event in baseball and it takes on increased luster and stature. So either way it works out.”

Orza assessed the chance that baseball could be reinstated for the 2012 London Games at 50-50.

“If you switch around a few European votes, baseball is back in,” he said. “I think that the European countries that did not vote for baseball see it largely as a uniquely American enterprise, and not appreciating the degree to which baseball has expanded to other countries.”

Archey remained more reserved, but hopeful: “Believe me, we’ll get the word out on this event. But it’s not in our hands. We don’t have a vote.”

To be as a truly baseball fan, I do hope baseball could be reinstated in 2012 and keep in the Olympic Games forever.

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