Big leaguers could save Olympic baseball

By John Manuel
October 25, 2002

DURHAM, N.C.–International Baseball Federation president Aldo Notari came to North Carolina ostensibly to see the future home of USA Baseball and to take part in a meeting of the Pan American Baseball Confederation (COPABE).

But right now, with baseball on the chopping block of the Olympic program, no meeting is routine for Notari. He's helping to marshal the international leaders of the sport to keep it from being eliminated from the Olympics, which could happen in November at the International Olympic Committee's meetings in Mexico City.

“This is the first time baseball has been united around the world,” said Notari, an Italian whose English is good enough that USA Baseball president Mike Gaski, the head coach at UNC Greensboro, only occasionally had to translate.

Notari–joined for an interview by Gaski, USA Baseball CEO Paul Seiler and U.S. Olympic Committee official Steve Roush–made clear that the push to keep baseball centers on two fronts: delaying the IOC's vote because of a technicality, or getting Major League Baseball to agree to stopping the regular season (possibly as soon as the 2008 Games in China) so big leaguers can be used.

“One nice letter from MLB and the union, saying in Beijing the best players will be participating, and problem solved,” Notari said. “A dream team from America, Japan, Cuba, everyone, will give (NBC Sports president) Dick Ebersol a big TV audience in America. One (Olympic baseball) game on TV with major league players will be more important to help baseball (spread) than any money (MLB) could spend on baseball around the world.”

MLB's participation would likely be possible only if the Olympic tournament format were shortened, Notari said, adding IBAF was open to such a measure. Officials from MLB and the union were unavailable for comment.

Notari led a group that included MLB vice president Sandy Alderson and union chief Don Fehr to an October meeting with IOC president Jacques Rogge, in which baseball also presented its case for delaying the vote. Depending on interpretation, the IOC's 15-member executive council and its 127-member general assembly would need either a two-thirds super majority or a simple majority to remove baseball, softball and modern pentathlon to make way for rugby and men's and women's golf.

Roush said the thrust of the USOC's argument was to push for the two-thirds interpretation (Article 52 of the Olympic charter), which could delay the vote or give baseball a much better chance of winning the vote. A delay could also allow MLB time to prepare a plan for the inclusion of big leaguers, possibly for the 2012 Games. New York, San Francisco and Toronto are among the major league cities bidding for those Games, and introducing big leaguers for Olympic play would make more sense for MLB if it were to happen in a North American city.