Baseball back in the Olympics with major leaguers? Bryce Harper would love it.
Published in Baseball
CLEARWATER, Fla. — When Bryce Harper flips on the television at night and watches the World Baseball Classic, he sees possibility.
It isn’t what you might think. Yes, Harper was among the first players last summer to commit to playing for Team USA. And sure, all things being equal, he would rather be in Phoenix with “U-S-A” across his chest than walking through the Phillies’ clubhouse in a white T-shirt and burgundy gym shorts, bat in hand, eager to take a few hacks and test the reconstructed ligament in his right elbow after Tommy John surgery in November.
But Harper is thinking beyond himself and the ongoing two-week tournament that has put baseball back on the international stage, even if the WBC hasn’t exactly dominated the headlines in the United States amid March Madness and NFL free agency. He’s thinking bigger.
Harper is thinking about the Olympics.
“I’ve been a huge advocate of baseball getting back in the Olympics and us [in MLB] taking that pause during the regular season, kind of like hockey does, to just let the guys go and play,” he said in a wide-ranging conversation before a Phillies exhibition game this week. “It’d be so much fun to have that and have the game and see that in the Olympics and have the best players in the world doing it.”
OK, so it almost certainly won’t ever happen. Baseball isn’t even on the docket for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris after being dropped as an Olympic sport after the 2008 Games and returning for a single appearance in 2020 in Japan.
But one way to bring it back on a regular basis would be to allow the best players in the world to compete. The problem, of course, would be the same thing that plagues the WBC: Timing.
There simply isn’t a convenient time on the calendar to hold an international baseball tournament without affecting an MLB season. Even the WBC, which is held in March to enable major leaguers to play for their countries without pausing the season, has tended to not draw many top pitchers who prefer to stay in spring training and prepare for a six-month season.
Imagine if MLB actually consented to halt the season for two weeks for the Olympics. Would Aaron Nola or Zack Wheeler, for instance, take a chance of getting injured? Most pitchers would use the Olympic break to take a breather.
“That’s the toughest component, really trying to get guys and their organizations to let them do it,” Harper said. “Even if you try to go with young minor league guys, it’s really tough for organizations to be like, ‘Hey, you’re our top dog. Go ahead and go pitch.’ And then Wheels and Noles, guys like that, you think about your free-agent years, you think about not being insured. It gets to the point where it’s like, ‘Man, it isn’t worth it for me and my family to do this.’
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