There’s a chance major leaguers could play in the 2020 Olympics

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Last summer the International Olympic Committee executive board voted to bring back baseball and softball to the Olympics in 2020 following a multiple-Olympics absence. That’s cool, even if only amateur players from the United States participated, as has always been the case in the past. And that certainly was the expectation when the return of baseball was announced last summer.

Today, however, at least one key decision maker in Olympic baseball and softball thinks that we could see major leaguers in Tokyo after all. That would be the president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, Riccardo Fraccari, who says that he is “confident” that a deal will be struck with Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball which allow big leaguers to play in the Tokyo games:

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred last month appeared pessimistic about striking an agreement to release the MLB’s top players for the 2020 Olympics, in comments at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

But Fraccari told reporters at the SportAccord Convention in Aarhus that he was encouraged after talks with the MLB last week.

“I am confident that we can find a positive solution with the MLB,” he said. “But I need to have more details.”

“We have to finalize the format first,” he said, noting that the MLB was awaiting information about the format and scheduling for the next phase of discussions.

That’s certainly not anything definite, but that MLB is even entertaining this in the form of talks is news, in my view. The games are planned to be held from July 24 through August 9, 2020, which would obviously be smack dab in the middle of the major league season. In the past MLB has never considered disrupting its season in order to accommodate international play of any kind. If Fraccari is to be believed, they’re considering it now.

Sixteen days is not the longest time in the world to disrupt the season. And, of course, it’d be possible for a format to be arranged that takes far less time than the entirety of the Olympic Games. Futz around with the All-Star break a bit, place a limit on how many players from each club could be gone or make some other sorts of concessions, and you can have both a minimally-disrupted major league season and a credible Olympic competition.

Worth watching.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.