heinnews’s David Hein this week went to the world of baseball to chat with Dr. Harvey W. Schiller, president of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF). In the first part of a two-part interview, they discussed the 2009 World Cup’s impact on baseball being brought back to the Olympics in 2016; MLB players playing in the Olympics; Bryce Harper’s helping baseball returning to the Olympics and Harper leaving high school early.

heinnews: Looking ahead to 2012, there is no baseball at the Summer Olympics in London. Preparations would be getting more and more intense if it were at the Games. How strange or how empty does it feel not having to do preparations for 2012?
Schiller: Of course we are still continuing all of our programs and we have the World Cup in September and we have the World Baseball Classic again in 2013. Baseball is still continuing. What I think you’ll see is more tournaments between now and 2016 to ensure that the players have the right level of play in competition. I think the unfortunate thing is that we won’t have the Olympic tournaments and that we won’t have that as a feeding system into the Olympics as well. Obviously our countries, our members and our players are upset that they won’t have that opportunity to perform on that stage.

heinnews: Being in Regensburg, there is news of the 2009 World Cup coming out with the German city one of the five first round host cities of the tournament. Talk a little bit about bringing that event from Cuba to Europe and spreading it across the continent to try and drum up support to get baseball back to the Olympics for 2016.
Schiller: Our initial thoughts were that it would help make a strong demonstration, especially to the European community and those IOC members in Europe, about the strength of baseball. So we were pleased, and we are pleased that so many countries and individuals have stepped forward to help in the tournament. Because of some of the decisions made by the IOC that they are going to pick two sports in August and only two sports will be voted on in October, I really don’t think that the tournament itself will affect the (IOC) Executive Committee because the tournament will follow that decision. Hopefully as the information grows of the planning of it and as the media begin to talk about it it will remind those same voters that baseball can exist in Europe and does exist in Europe. But I think specifically because of the way the selection process has changed where before the sports were going to be selected in October, now they are just going to be ratified in October.

heinnews: Quite a few steps were taken by the IBAF to convince the IOC that changes were taking place regarding baseball at the Olympics. One of them was having MLB players available to play and another was an anti-doping commitment. How important were those steps?
Schiller: Although we presented a whole series of points – everything from supporting the venues to marketing – the two main points were the commitment to anti-doping and the steps that have been taken at every level – the federation, Major League Baseball, all the professional leagues – and second the commitment by Major League Baseball to allow the star players to participate so that each of the representative countries that have or would have players in Major League Baseball – because some countries like Cuba presently do not and some others may only have one or two – that from each of those rosters would have in addition to all of the other professionals the so-called stars of the game. And those would be selected by the manager of the team. So hypothetically for example if Puerto Rico was participating in the tournament they would players like Delgado and Rodriguez and Beltran and others. We’re committed to doing that and have the support of the union and Major League Baseball.

heinnews: The other issue you mentioned was the anti-doping measures. One minor problem is that MLB does not have the same punishment standards as the IOC. How much of a sticking point is that?
Schiller: The federation is completely compliant with the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) rules and for all international competitions Major League Baseball, the Japanese professional league and others are also compliant. We did 300 in and out of competition tests with the World Baseball Classic. The only part that may or may not apply is because we have suspended players from international play but no one from any sport – whether it’s soccer or professional cycling or anything else – has the ability to suspend people from their profession when they’re outside of that. There will always be opportunities for people to work. We don’t live in a socialistic world. And we don’t live in a communistic world where we can dictate professionally through occupation whether a player can play or not according to the same rules. As long as they abide by our rules. So, a player who tests positive at the Classic you will not see that player in an international competition. The best thing about it is that Major League Baseball is testing. They are providing sanctions and education. And they are cleaning up their sport. That’s the best part.

heinnews: Softball recently rejected taking part in a joint bid with baseball to return to the Olympics. What are your thoughts on that?
Schiller: Many of our federations are combined softball and baseball, including Germany, Italy and others. And they all wanted to combine the efforts and that was rejected by Mr. (Don) Porter (International Softball Federation President). My understanding is, he’s not just trying to pitch his women’s game but his men’s game as well.

heinnews: What impact will that have on baseball’s chances of making it back?
Schiller: Well, it may have more of an impact on softball’s chances. I don’t know. I think we’re independent. We have some of the best athletes in the world participating in baseball. When Puerto Rico beats the United States and the Netherlands beat the Dominican Republic, that tells you about the level of play of the game.

heinnews: One of baseball’s biggest young prospects Bryce Harper has come out and said he’s committed to playing at the 2016 Olympics. What was the motivation of bringing him into the bid movement?
Schiller: Our position has been that it’s impossible to define the stars of the game in 2016. We could have had Derek Jeter, Delgado and others make positive statements that they will play at the Olympic Games – and we will. What we tried to do was look at who are 16 or 18 years old today that is probably going to be the stars seven years from now. And that’s who we represented to the committee. I think the committee understands that. But I think they also want to hear it from the stars of today. I think we’re obligated to make those statements on behalf of the players playing the game today even though they may not be available in 2016. A player who is 30 years old today, the odds are that they will not be playing in 2016. But I think the IOC members want to hear that for an overall commitment. And I think we understand that now. I think you’re going to see some special things coming out of the All-Star competition on behalf not just of the star players of today but there is also the Futures Game with the players of tomorrow.

heinnews: Following baseball in the U.S. and dealing directly with him with the 2016 bid process, what are your thoughts on Bryce Harper forgoing his final two years of high school to go to a junior college in an effort to get drafted a year earlier?
Schiller: I think this is a very bright kid. He took an equivalency program where he has validated his last two years of high school. The difference between him and many of these other kids who come from so many other countries is that he will have completed his high school education. He may not have spent that many years there but in this country there are ways – not just in baseball but in lots of other work-orientated programs – that individuals who are smart enough can validate the course work of their last years. Now, unfortunately in many sports young people are pulled out of school and never return to school and never validate it. But in this specific case he’s a bright enough kid and comes from a good, strong family, has spent a lot of time in the summer taking extra courses so that he can validate that last time. And he meets the regulations for a high school degree in the state that he lives in.

Return next week for Part 2 of the Interview where the following issues will be discussed: the impact of the Japanese league by Japanese players coming to America; the 2009 World Baseball Classic; an increase in the size of the 2013 WBC; and the health of baseball around the world.

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1 Comment

  1. Coach G. says:

    I’d just like to point out the competition throughout Europe this Fall will be a “world championship” in name only.
    Sure there will be representatives from many different countries but if Joe Fan thinks that the athletes playing represent the best of their respective lands they are wrong.