[image title="london-olympic-logo" size="full" id="15036" align="center" linkto="full" ]I really enjoyed watching the Olympic opening ceremonies last night. The cultural show was a let-down, perhaps because I’m comparing it to Beijing but also perhaps because Canada seemed to overemphasize parts of its culture to the point of caricaturization at times. I’m ethnically Canadian, though I don’t have a lot of connection to my past, and nothing in the show made me all that interested in forming a connection, though I did like what they did with projection on the stage. But that’s all for another blog.
There is something special about watching the Olympics that I have trouble describing. Watching the athletes walk in so obviously proud to represent their country, or seeing Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jack Johnson fly to Vancouver so that he could make the opening ceremonies even though he has a game to make in California today, has resonance. More and more of these Olympians are highly-paid, highly-endorsed stars, but you don’t sense it watching them. They have a look in their eye that you don’t see in professional sports – and everyone has it. Its a sense of purpose. Of course, they are there to personally compete in the toughest stage in the world, but they are also there to represent their country.
National Hockey League players were actually forced to concede other things in order to secure the right for them to play in the Olympics. They enjoy it that much. Hockey players aren’t paid all that much on average less than baseball players, but they still walk around with that glimmer in their eye. In fact, it seems as if these professional athletes, who have plenty of time for personally-satisfying competition back in the NHL, are even more eager to play for the sole purpose of national pride. That’s why they fought tooth and nail for the chance to play in the Olympics, and significantly altered their schedule (the NHL loses money because of the Olympics) in order to do so.
The International Olympic Committee has stated that baseball will no longer be played in the Summer Olympics unless MLB ponies up and sends the biggest stars in the world to play. This should function as impetus to start the discussion on MLB’s side. The World Baseball Classic proved itself this season to be a silly little venture into international competition, largely because of its pre-season timing. MLB should interrupt its season, just like the NHL does, in order to allow its players to compete on that stage. Its not as bad of an interruption as it sounds – the whole thing could be played, theoretically, in 10 days, just like the NHL does.
In many ways, baseball is the perfect professional sport to play in the Olympics. Unlike hockey, baseball functions in a way to allow a real all-star team to function. All-star hockey teams at the Olympics stumble as their players learn chemistry with their line mates. Except for a few positional relationships, this is not a problem in baseball. Teams wouldn’t need to practice together. They could simple move to the Olympic village one day and play ball.
How would MLB do it? I think that there are two possibilities. Let’s assume that they would need 10 days off in order to do it, which is what the NHL does. Teams would play 3 play-in rounds against their group, and then the best 8 teams would advance to a single-elimination playoff. The All-Star game would be eliminated, which gives you 3 days. At that point you need to find 7 days, which could come from a combination of the season starting sooner, ending later, and an off day or two being eliminated. I’d propose shortening the season, but the league would never do that. But really, this looks very doable from a logistical standpoint.
From a business standpoint, I think that a good bit of harmless nationalism could do baseball a lot of good. MLB is trying to expand to China and Europe, and the Olympics are a great stage to introduce people to the game. MLB wouldn’t directly derive revenue from the games, but could find ways to market their players and teams around it. Interest in baseball would be rekindled in a lot of American fans. Baseball lacks true international competition, so this would be a great niche to fill.
But overall, they should do it because athletes sometimes need to compete for something other than money and teams that they are arbitrarily placed on. I’ve seen the look in Derek Jeter’s eye while he plays in the World Baseball classic, and that’s a glorified exhibition tournament. This would be the real thing, with players in top shape, and on a platform infinitely bigger. Get it done, Selig.
(By the way… Zach Parise and Ryan Miller are going to lead the underdog USA team to a gold medal! You heard it here first.)
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