As baseball seeks reinstatement into the Olympic Games, Dr. Harvey Schiller is using his substantial influence to pitch America's game to the world, including calling on the President of the United States.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor, NYSportsJournalism.com
(Posted Feb. 2, 2009)
This will be a busy, and pivotal, year for baseball. Beginning in March with the World Baseball Classic, continuing through the MLB season and World Series in October and including the Baseball World Cup in September (which will be played throughout Europe with 22 teams, including the U.S.), supporters of the game will be working on efforts to have baseball reinstated as an Olympic sport. The International Olympic Committee in 2005 voted to drop baseball and softball following the 2008 Summer Games, and thus will not be part of the 2012 Games in London. The IOC is scheduled to vote on two of seven sports seeking Olympics Games reinstatement on Oct. 3, the day after it is scheduled to select the 2016 Summer Games venue (from among Chicago, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Madrid). The others seeking reinstatement are golf, karate, roller sports, rugby and squash. Dr. Harvey Schiller has been president of the International Baseball Federation, the sport's worldwide governing body, since 2007. In this position, he is at the forefront of dealing with the political, financial, logistical and personal issues involved in getting baseball (and softball) reinstated. But the former executive director of the USOC is up for the challenge, having previously worked for two of the toughest bosses in sports (or elsewhere): Ted Turner when Schiller was president of TBS Sports, and George Steinbrenner when Schiller was CEO of YankeeNets. Dr. Schiller spoke with NYSportsJournalism.com about the challenges ahead .
NYSportsJournalism.com: Does it seem logical that there won't be baseball in the 2012 Olympics in London? Or is that confusing logic with politics?
Dr. Harvey Schiller: After Jacques Rogge was elected president of the IOC in 2001, one of his mandates was to try to reduce the number of sports in the Olympics. He asked for a review of all the sports that were on the program. My understanding is that there were a large number of older sports that, along with baseball and softball, were marked for possible elimination. People have told me that baseball and softball became victims of new sports versus the older sports, because [at the time] they were the two most recent sports added to the program [baseball became an Olympic sport in 1992 and softball in 1996]. So we got caught up in a lot of politics.
NYSJ: What is the IOC's concern regarding after-use of stadiums?
Dr. Schiller: They felt we weren't able to convert stadiums built for the Olympics into venues for baseball. But that is exactly what we did with the Olympic Stadium in Atlanta [built for the 1996 Summer Games], which was converted into a baseball stadium that is now Turner Field [and has been home to the Braves since 1997]. Looking ahead to 2016 and the four cities that are finalists to host the Summer Games and how they relate to baseball: Tokyo has a stadium [55,000-seat Tokyo Dome, where the Yomiuri Giants play] so you don't have to build anything, and the national pastime in Japan is baseball. In Chicago, you have two stadiums in the city [Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field] that would bring in $30 million in revenue for the Olympics just from baseball. Baseball is pretty big in many cities in Brazil and Rio de Janeiro has some exclusive baseball stadiums. And for Madrid, games could be played in Barcelona, where baseball first became an Olympic sport, which would not be unusual.
"In Chicago, you have two stadiums that would bring in $30 million in revenue for the Olympics just from baseball."
NYSJ: It would seem that guaranteeing star players is a more difficult issue, especially for an event seven years away.
Dr. Schiller: In the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, of the eight teams that participated, five had absolutely their best players and the only team that did not have players off of the 25-man roster was the United States, which sent players off of the 40-man roster. So what we are doing, and what baseball commissioner Bud Selig has said, is that the roster will be the best players ever to participate from Major League Baseball. What does that mean? I can't answer that today because it's up to the players themselves to participate.
NYSJ: So you think the IOC wants the U.S. to guarantee an All-Star Game-type roster, which might be difficult in the middle of the MLB season?
Dr. Schiller: What I really think President Rogge wants is not that we have 25 players off the 25-man rosters but that, as in tennis in Beijing, when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were there, he wants a couple of major stars. At the meeting we had with the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland. in November, one of the questions was, "Will you bring your stars?" My reply was, "We have 30 [MLB] teams. The starting rotation has five pitchers, so that's 150 pitchers. So you tell me which are the stars. I can't define that [seven years] from now." A good example is Curtis Granderson [of the Detroit Tigers], whom we took with us to the IOC presentation. In today's world he is certainly a valuable player, but he doesn't get the attention that Derek Jeter gets. In my view, Curtis is a star and would be a great representative of this country.
NYSJ: Was it a surprise when baseball was voted out?
Dr. Schiller: It was a surprise, and part of the surprise was that because baseball and softball are U.S.-based sports that there might at the time have been an anti-American feeling. If you look at the seven sports that are being considered for reinstatement, baseball and softball [were voted out] by one or two votes while the others lost by 60, 70 votes. But I don't want to make light of that because this is a new world and you never know how IOC members will vote.
NYSJ: Is this a pivotal year for baseball to prove itself, if that is the term, to the IOC, with the World Baseball Classic, the Baseball World Cup and MLB itself all offering the IOC a first-hand look at the globalization of the sport?
Dr. Schiller: Certainly. The WBC is a major media event and will be shown in more than 200 countries. The most important part is that the 16 participating teams have the opportunity to train and compete at the highest level. So teams from South Africa, Italy and the Netherlands go to spring training and get to play against MLB players. It is unique in sports. That would be like a team in the World Cup coming into London to train against Manchester United.
NYSJ: What type of support are you getting from marketers and potential sponsors?
Dr. Schiller: We are very fortunate in that we have the full support of Major League Baseball, which in turn is able to deliver support to us through marketers who work with MLB.
NYSJ: Regarding steroids, do you see a double standard, where baseball players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire who are linked to banned supplements are ostracized but stars in other sports with similar situations are not?
Dr. Schiller: It's complex. Baseball is so proud of its records. The nature of baseball is nine against one and one against nine. And when you measure it that way it is unique among team sports. The love of the game around the world focuses on individuals. People relate to individual players and have grown up with them. Whether it was Jackie Robinson or Mickey Mantle, that was your guy. When you grow up you realize players have their flaws. But when you are 10 or 11, you don't want to hear [anything negative]. In some other team sports, people don't seem to care as much about that in the long run. Baseball is the only sport on a national basis that you are going to read about every day. In the middle of summer, you won't see a lot of NFL stories. But in the middle of the NFL season, there were headlines about baseball players being signed, being traded, every day.
NYSJ: You recently attended the MLB owners meeting and presented them with an update on the Olympic situation. What was their reaction?
Dr. Schiller: The reaction was good. They know it's within their best interests to get back into the Olympic program. The big [issue] is getting the best players in there.
NYSJ: President Obama has already given his support behind Chicago hosting the 2016 Olympics. Will he support the return of baseball to the Olympics as well?
Dr. Schiller: Yes. We have been working with his people. At the IOC meeting in November we used as part of our presentation a photo of him throwing out the first pitch at a Chicago White Sox game wearing a White Sox cap.
NYSJ: With ten being the highest, how would you rate baseball's chances of being reinstated for 2016?
Dr. Schiller: A ten, of course.
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