LA VISTA, Neb. — Joe Torre’s first experience in international baseball convinced him that the sport should be back in the Olympics.
Torre managed Team USA in the World Baseball Classic last month and said he was impressed with how invested the players were in the games even though they had to leave spring training to participate.
The Americans lost in the semifinals of the 16-nation tournament. The Dominican Republic defeated Puerto Rico in the championship game.
“The World Baseball Classic has showed you the three times it’s been played that other countries have caught on and done a pretty good job of playing baseball,” Torre said.
Torre was in the Omaha suburb of La Vista for a banquet celebrating the unveiling of a statue of his St. Louis Cardinals teammate and Omaha native Bob Gibson. Former Cardinals Tim McCarver and Bill White also were on hand.
The statue of the Hall of Fame pitcher will stand at Werner Park, the home stadium of the minor league Omaha Storm Chasers.
Torre is a Major League Baseball executive vice president but not directly involved in MLB’s efforts to return the sport to the Olympics.
Baseball and softball have been out of the Games since 2008 and have merged in a bid to return in 2020. They are competing against seven other sports for a single spot on the program.
The IOC board will meet next month in St. Petersburg, Russia, to select one or more sports to submit for final consideration to the IOC general assembly in September.
“I’m a realist. I’d like to believe it will happen,” Torre said. “The reason I can’t give you better than that is because I’d like to be sitting across the table and trying to make a case for it, and I’m sort of on the sidelines. That’s not a criticism. That’s the way we’re set up in MLB.”
Torre said that while Japan, Cuba and Taiwan along with the United States, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are the elite baseball-playing nations, the Netherlands and Brazil are among the nations improving rapidly.
“To me, it’s really disappointing if we don’t get people’s attention by what’s been going on in the world and how many more countries are getting interested in promoting the game of baseball,” Torre said.
Though the WBC was overshadowed by spring training and the NCAA basketball tournament in the United States, WBC organizers said the event exceeded global broadcast and ticket sales targets.
“You look at how they filled the ballparks in Puerto Rico and Japan when they were playing there,” Torre said.
Torre said there probably isn’t a better time of year to play the WBC, which will next be held in 2017. He said it would be too much to ask major leaguers to play the WBC late in the year after many of them had played 200 spring-training and regular-season games and playoffs.
“Right now, unless somebody says something to me that sort of strikes a chord, we’re just going to have to keep doing this,” he said.
Torre said he would not be in favor of eliminating the All-Star Game and putting the major league season on hiatus for three weeks at midseason in years when the WBC is played.
“I’ve heard rumblings of that,” he said. “You can’t stop baseball for three weeks. I know they do it in hockey (in Olympic years), but we really can’t do it. There’s a rhythm to our game.”
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