Elliott on baseball column

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

There are plenty of reasons that there won't be baseball in the 2012 Olympics.

And each and every one -- no matter how you number them -- has a dollar sign in front of it.

Basically, the Olympics we grew up with, the spectacle that wouldn't let some of our hockey players play since they were ex-pros, had had enough of the minor-leaguers allowed to represent their countries, which was the case in Athens.

International Olympic Committee boss Jacques Rogge wants the best athletes in the world, whether it be hockey players, tennis players, three-point shooters or shortstops.

The final straw for the IOC came when Major League Baseball decided to go ahead with plans for its own 16-team World Cup Classic invitational tournament next March.

With the semi-finals and the final to be played in big-league parks it is expected to be a cash windfall. Think soccer World Cup and the patriotic fever which makes hearts pump, flags wave and horns honk. T-shirts. Baseballs. Flags. Baseballs with flags on them. A TV deal. None of which heads the way of the IOC.

Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, Ichiro Suzuki ... name your star. If healthy, they are all supposed to be there. What the IOC got in August and likely will get in 2008 was willing and able minor-leaguers. But no Dream Team as when the NBA arrived on the scene.

Not that the novice fan in Athens -- fascinated by the fact that he or she could get whacked up the side of a head by a baseball and still get to keep the souvenir -- or Beijing would really know the difference between a major-leaguer or a minor-leaguer.

The eight-team Olympic baseball tournament was about as representative as having a Stanley Cup playoffs made up of Norris Division teams. Eight teams, with three from Europe? Only two from the Americas, which saw Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Panama, the U.S. and Canada try to qualify?

What's wrong with having all of the best teams there? Isn't that what it's supposed to all be about?

Four years ago, there were rumblings baseball would be dropped. This time, little noise of an anti-baseball sentiment filtered out. Would lobbying by the International Baseball Federation have helped? Perhaps.

There are now 122 baseball federations around the world compared to 60 in 1990. Baseball has grown but on the Olympic stage it has not drawn the all-stars because of Major League Baseball's six-week training camp, 162-game season and month-long post-season.

When we first heard baseball was out, we yawned. The 16-team World Cup Classic will be better and Canada won't have to go begging for the services of a Jeff Francis or a Justin Morneau when it comes time to hand in its roster, since the World Cup Classic is MLB-endorsed.

If a player is healthy, he'll be suiting up for the Japan, Australia, Korea, the U.S. and Canada too.

Yet, looking closer, this is a serious blow to baseball in Canada and government funding for the sport at the grass roots level. Baseball gets funding because it is an Olympic sport.

After 2008, it won't be. Baseball will be classified as a Pan-American Games sport.

Baseball had been a demonstration sport in the 1984 Olympics and in the previous four Olympics was a medal sport, with Cuba winning three times and the Americans in 2000. In Nov. 2003, Canada qualified for the Olympic baseball tournament for the first time.

As Ryan Franklin, the Seattle Mariner who pitched for the Americans in Sydney, said: "I don't understand, you can't just take a sport out and put in ballroom dancing."

Ballroom dancing was a demonstration sport in 2000.

QUESTIONS

Isn't it a more exciting game on the new turf at the Rogers Centre? How many times have we seen balls inside the bag at third result in bang-bang plays at second base, often for outs? A year ago, the guy is standing on second.

Will the IOC demand that soccer send its best to the next Olympics?

Did you see where Jack McKeon was going to give Marlins first baseman Carlos Delgado the day off on Thursday? Delgado then hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the fifth.

Okay, stay with me on this one, the Jays pitching coaches the previous two seasons have not seen eye-to-eye with Ted Lilly, yet he's an untouchable?

SIGNINGS

The Cincinnati Reds signed right-hander James Avery of Moose Jaw, Sask., giving him a signing bonus of $170,000 US. Avery pitched for Niagara University after being recruited by coach Mike McRae of Niagara Falls. McRae, who has since moved on to Canisius, was the only Division I coach from Canada when he was at Niagara and tapped heavily into his home ... To date, right fielder Nick Weglarz of Stevensville, Ont. (Indians); catcher Chris Robinson of Dorchester, Ont. (Tigers) and Avery, the top three Canadian draft picks last month, have been paid $1.027 million ... And the New York Mets gave Central Florida catcher Drew Butera, a fifth-rounder, a $175,000 signing bonus. Drew is the son of Jays scout Sal Butera, who earned $62,500 in 1987 when he played for the Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins.

SECOND-HALF GUESSES

What to watch for in the second half:

- The Colorado Rockies will deal outfielder Preston Wilson and lefty Joe Kennedy, and probably Shawn Chacon.

- The San Francisco Giants are trying to move second baseman Ray Durham and third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo. Each have expensive 2006 seasons left on their contracts but could be of value to playoff contenders, for as former Montreal Expos president John McHale always said "this is the time that teams overpay."

- Cleveland Indians general manager Mark Shapiro is looking for a right-handed bat for the middle of the lineup and is willing to trade a prospect or two to get one. Preferably, the hitter would be an outfielder. Could that be the reason his assistant Neal Huntington was at the Rogers Centre during the previous home stand?

- The Detroit Tigers might have to decide if they want to trade Dmitri Young or Rondell White by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Both are soon to become free agents. The Tigers also have to decide when to try to sign pending free agents Placido Polanco and starter Jason Johnson.

- Minnesota Twins GM Terry Ryan may sit atop the AL wild-card race, but he's looking for offence. Especially when he checks his schedule and see that the Twins and White Sox play 13 times after Aug. 15. They have six games remaining with Boston, three with the Yankees, three with the Orioles, four with the Angels, seven with Oakland and six with Texas.

- The Cincinnati Reds will be selling with third baseman Joe Randa and reliever David Weathers available. The Reds want to deal one of their three outfielders: Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena or Adam Dunn.

- There are still whispers, although not very loud, that the Oakland Athletics will trade outfielder Mark Kotsay. He is asking for a two-year extension. And will they move Barry Zito to complete their makeover?

- The Seattle Mariners will part with any or all of: Jaime Moyer, Randy Winn, Raul Ibanez and closer Eddie Guardado.

- The Kansas City Royals also will listen to trade talks for veterans such as Terrence Long, Matt Stairs, Tony Graffanino, Brian Anderson and the reboutable Jose Lima. But Mike Sweeney isn't going anywhere.


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