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Friday, December 6, 2002
MLB needs shorter Olympic tournament

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

Baseball survived its near-death experience as an Olympic sport last week as much because of IOC politics as anything else. But somewhere down the road, Major League Baseball is going to start feeling pressure to permit big leaguers to participate -- either to keep the sport in the Olympics or to allow the United States to stay competitive. Or both.

"I don't see any way that Major League Baseball could shut down for an extended period of time for the Olympics," says baseball's executive vice president, Sandy Alderson, who represented MLB in its dealings with the IOC. "There's no way we could shut down for two weeks. Think of all the complications.

"Start with the fans. If you ask fans to make a choice between watching their own team for two weeks or watching the United States team play Cuba maybe once, I think most people would rather wake up in the morning and look at the box scores."

One option being examined, though, is shortening the Olympic baseball competition to only five games. If that were to happen, MLB could just fit the Olympics into a break a few days longer than the All-Star break.

Or there has been talk about expanded Olympic rosters so that big-league teams could loan players to the Olympic team for a few days or a week, then have them replaced by other players.

But would that work? Would the Diamondbacks, for instance, let Randy Johnson miss a start to pitch for the Olympic team if the other NL West teams weren't sending off players of similar caliber? No chance.

So everyone will keep brainstorming. For now, though, Alderson says there will be better players in the 2004 Olympics than there were the last time around -- just because the Athens games are in August instead of September. An August Olympiad means teams can allow better prospects to play because they can still return in time for September call-ups.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.