Baseball has an on-again, off-again relationship with the Olympic games. It was only made an official Olympic sport in 1992, then voted out by the IOC (the International Olympic Committee) in 2008. I was excited to see baseball come back in 2020 for the Olympics in Tokyo, but when I turned on the game I noticed the players weren’t the big league names I was expecting to see. I noticed other people were wondering about this too so I did some research to find out the answer to my question – can pro baseball players play in the Olympics?
MLB players don’t play in the Olympics because the regular season overlaps with the summer Olympics and it would be expensive to pause the regular season for a couple of weeks. Additionally, there is always a risk of players getting injured during the Olympics.
The Olympics are a time for the world’s best athletes to come together and compete on the grandest stage, but you won’t see MLB players playing in the Olympics. Let’s look at the five main reasons why MLB players don’t participate in the Olympics.
1. The Olympics Schedule Overlaps with the MLB Season
The Major League Baseball regular season starts in early April and ends in late September while the summer Olympics usually begin in July and end in August.
While there are still 162 games during the MLB’s regular season, this conflicting schedule means the MLB’s best players would be away from their teams for about two to three weeks if they were to compete in the Olympics. That’s a long time to be without your star player!
So, baseball games in the Olympics happen during the summer, which is smack-dab in the middle of the MLB season. Therefore, MLB players are unable to play in the Olympics because they would be away from their team for a few weeks out of the season.
2. The MLB Will Lose Money
Allowing MLB players to go to the Olympics means the season will have to be suspended for a few weeks, which means the MLB would lose out on revenue.
For example, Japan and South Korea shut down their seasons so their best players could participate in the Olympics. The MLB would also need to suspend their season for a few weeks to allow their best players to participate.
If the MLB did not suspend their season, then teams that sent their best players to the Olympics would be at a big disadvantage during the duration of the Olympics. It’s difficult to fill in the gap for your most talented player.
3. Players Are at Risk for Injury
There is no guarantee that a player will return from the Olympics in one piece. There is always a risk of injury when playing so there is a risk that a team’s best player gets hurt while competing in a non-team event.
For example, if a star player gets injured in the Olympics, his season could be over. It might not happen often, but it does happen. Just take a look at this collision by Julio Rodriguez (Seattle Mariners phenom and Rookie of the Year frontrunner) in the 2020 Olympics.
4. MLB Players are Committed to the World Baseball Classic
Because of the love and hate relationship between baseball and the Olympics, the MLB started the World Baseball Classic (WBC) tournament in 2006.
Like the Olympics, the WBC also takes place every four years. However, MLB players can participate in the WBC because the tournament happens during spring training instead of during the middle of the season.
On the other hand, critics say that even though the WBC is an international event, its global appeal does not compare to the Olympics. The Olympic games also come with better funding and the excitement of winning Gold for your country. Furthermore, the Olympics is a better platform for bringing all baseball lovers together than the WBC.
The main goal of forming the WBC was to promote baseball worldwide, and it was gaining steam until postponed in 2021 by the pandemic. Time will tell if the WBC gains in popularity!
5. Players From the 40-Man Roster Cannot Play in the Olympics
The 40-man roster in baseball consists of active MLB players, some Minor League players, and players who are on an injury list. In simple terms, the 40-man roster has most of the best players in the game.
However, players who are on a team’s 40-man roster are not eligible to play in the Olympics.
In 2020, the International Baseball Federation, the MLB, and MLBPA decided that players affiliated with MLB organizations can play, but anyone on the 40-man roster can not play. So, MLB players can play, but not the star players and the big names that people love to watch.
Because of this rule, players who played on the US team in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were prospects and former All-Star baseball players. For some of the prospects, playing in the Olympics was a big deal for their career because they might never make it to the big leagues.