- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

There are all sorts of reasons why baseball shouldn’t return to the Olympic Games.

Harvey Schiller, though, has an answer for each of them. And if the president of the International Baseball Federation has his way, America’s pastime again will be a part of the world’s biggest sporting event in 2016.

Schiller - the former SEC commissioner, president of TBS Sports and CEO of YankeeNets who took over the reins at the IBAF two years ago - is trying to spread the word about the need for baseball to be back in the Olympics after getting booted by the International Olympic Committee four years ago.

There will be no baseball competition at the 2012 London Games, but the IOC will vote in October whether to reinstitute the sport for the 2016 Summer Games shortly after picking the host city from finalists Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo. That means Schiller is racing down to the wire to try to drum up support for baseball, particularly in the European nations that dominate the IOC executive committee.

There will be a formal presentation to the IOC next month in Lausanne, Switzerland, but before that Schiller is trying to win support here in the United States. He joined top officials from the Major League Baseball Players Association in hosting ambassadors from numerous countries at a Washington Nationals game last week.

“Our goal is to show the global growth of the game, how many people are involved in it,” he said.

Schiller has a compelling counterargument for the reasons baseball shouldn’t be reinstated as an Olympic sport:

On baseball’s steroids problem: “We’ve never had a real problem at the world and global level, at the Olympics or any other international competition,” he said.

Still, the IBAF put together a working agreement with MLB and the union to ensure there was full World Anti-Doping Agency-compliant drug testing for this year’s World Baseball Classic and for future international events.

“So we put that to bed,” Schiller said.

On the lack of major league players on Olympic rosters: While that was true in the case of the U.S. roster in Beijing last summer (the bulk of the team was made up of Class AAA and Class AA players), several other countries (Japan, Korea, Cuba) sent their best players. But Schiller insists there will be a more concerted effort to get bigger “name” American players in 2016.

“We’re talking about it,” he said. “We will guarantee that it will be the best players we’ve ever had. And hopefully we’ll have players that are recognizable.”

On the slow pace of play, making multiple games a day difficult to schedule: At the Beijing Games last summer, the IBAF instituted the “11th Inning Rule,” in which games that went that long featured a major rule change that allowed teams to start every half-inning with runners on first and second base. The rule was controversial, but it did end games quickly, much to the IOC’s delight.

“So that was another issue we put to bed,” Schiller said.

On holding the tournament opposite the MLB regular season: Schiller and MLB have come to an agreement that would limit the number of major league games played directly opposite Olympic games (which are mostly held in the morning and early afternoon). And commissioner Bud Selig promised there would be no big league games going on simultaneously with the gold-medal Olympic game.

Whether the IOC buys the argument and brings baseball back in 2016 remains to be seen. Either way, Schiller is confident baseball will continue to grow across the globe and become a truly international sport. He looks at the success of this year’s World Baseball Classic - in which surprise teams from the Netherlands, Italy and Australia pulled off huge upsets - and sees as much (if not more) parity in this sport than others.

“I remain optimistic,” Schiller said. “But I’m also a realist.”

The Olympics may not want baseball. But it’s obvious the world does.

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