In a sport that generally struggles to promote its biggest stars, Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper stands out as one of the few recognizable players in the sport. Still, the 27-year-old recognizes that the game’s struggles in marketing have limited the ability to grow the sport and that’s a problem.
His big solution? Let MLB players play in the Olympics.
“My biggest thing is, they [MLB stars] have to do the Olympics every four years,” Harper told Jared Carrabis and Dallas Braden of Starting 9. “You want to grow the game? You want to really take it to different countries and different places? You put the baseball back into the Olympics, but let the big league players play. That is an absolute joke to me and I’ve said it a million times.”
If Harper feels so passionately about growing the game, why didn’t he compete in the World Baseball Classic in 2013 or 2017? While he isn’t against the event, he doesn’t believe it would allow the sport to grow in the same manner as being on the Olympic stage would.
“I’m taking the WBC out,” Harper said. “I’m not a big WBC guy because that’s not the Olympics. I’m not saying it’s bad, seeing USA win it last time was awesome and seeing all those players how much fun they had [was cool]. But can you imagine being in a foreign country – and I was able to do this at a young age – standing on the line and listening to your anthem blare? Dude, there is nothing better. Like it fires me up just sitting here. There is nothing better, bro.
“It is such a tragedy to me that you are seeing – and I’m not saying this as any disrespect to any minor leaguers or anything like that – the 2020 Olympics in Japan – in Tokyo – and you’re not sending big league guys? Are you kidding me? You want to grow the game as much as possible and you’re not going to let us play in the Olympics because you don’t want to cut out on money for a two-week period? Like, OK, that’s dumb.”
The 2017 World Baseball Classic delivered an incredible product, one that displayed how unique baseball games are in different cultures. The fourth World Baseball Classic also produced the first championship for the United States, who defeated Puerto Rico in the final.
However, for as enjoyable as the World Baseball Classic was, it’s hard to think it brought in a ton of new baseball fans. Already established baseball fans enjoyed the hell out of it. People that didn’t watch baseball before it probably still don’t. The Olympics bring together a unique audience, one that includes quite a few viewers that don’t typically watch baseball or any of the major sports leagues.
The 2020 Olympics will now take place in 2021 because of COVID-19. The USA hadn’t yet qualified for the games prior to the pandemic forcing the world to halt. Phillies prospects Spencer Howard, Alec Bohm and Conner Seabold were part of the USA roster that attempted to qualify for the Olympics in the WBSC Premier12 but failed to do so. With all due respect, those three may have great MLB careers, but they aren’t yet household names and probably wouldn’t draw fans to watch baseball over other Olympics events. And at this stage, Howard and Bohm will probably be in the major leagues by the time that the USA mounts another qualifying attempt. Chances are, they wouldn’t compete in the Olympics – which start on July 23, 2021 – because they’ll be helping the Phillies try to reach the playoffs.
Imagine how the game could grow if Harper, Mike Trout and Gerrit Cole played for Team USA in the Olympic final against a Japanese roster that included Shoehi Ohtani, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Yu Darvish. We won’t get to see that because baseball doesn’t plan to pause its season to allow players to compete, and certainly star players aren’t going to leave the team that pays them millions of dollars to go play in the Olympics during the middle of the MLB season.
We’ll probably have to keep imagining a world where MLB stars play in the Olympics. The current MLB CBA expires after the 2021 season, but it seems unlikely that the player’s union will use its energy to fight for players getting a few weeks off every four years to compete in the Olympics. It’s a hell of an idea, though, much better than a lot of the ideas that have surfaced in an attempt to expand the game.
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