Sport News Olympic baseball won’t feature best vs. best and that’s a shame

It’s exciting that baseball is back in the Olympics for Tokyo after having been out of the program in 2012 and 2016. It’s also going to be a weird mix of intriguing and disappointing to watch it all unfold, because while there are going to be familiar faces, the Olympics happening simultaneously with the Major League Baseball season means that the best players in the world won’t be there.

We’ve never gotten to see that kind of international tournament in baseball. The World Baseball Classic is the closest thing, but it happens during spring training and, between the fact that players aren’t in peak form at that time of year, and all the players who opt out to focus on getting ready for their seasons, it still falls short of being a showcase of the very best in the world.

The Olympic baseball tournament will most closely resemble the 2016 Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament, where the Olympic Athletes from Russia came away with the gold because the KHL took a break from play while the NHL didn’t, leading to a tournament where the top players were young guys bound for the NHL, like Nikita Gusev and Kirill Kaprizov, alongside future Hall of Famers who’d returned home like Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk (Editor’s note: All the Don Cherrys of the world are spitting out their Timbits from Hortons, but yes, Kovalchuk is absolutely deserving.). Germany won the silver after upsetting Canada in the semifinals, in no small part because the Canadian roster was mostly players who made you say, “Oh yeah, that guy,” like Derek Roy, Ben Scrivens, and Wojtek Wolski.

For the Tokyo Olympics, the U.S. baseball team offers Todd Frazier, Edwin Jackson, Scott Kazmir, and David Robertson, among other quasi-familiar faces. Adrian Gonzalez and Oliver Perez are on Team Mexico, Ian Kinsler and Ryan Lavarnway are on Team Israel, Jose Bautista and Melky Cabrera are playing for the Dominican Republic, Seung-hwan Oh is there for South Korea, and Masahiro Tanaka is pitching for Japan — the Kovalchuk of this tournament as the guy who could still be playing in the world’s top league, but chose to go home.

Think, for a moment, how much fun it would be to see Tanaka and Shohei Ohtani on the same Team Japan in Tokyo. Or what it would look like if the best players in the major leagues were all headed over. Here are some lineups, just going by Baseball Reference’s WAR for this season and place of birth, for a hint of what they might look like — and keep in mind that, yeah, because it’s just based on a stat for this year, there’s no Mike Trout, but there is Ronald Acuña Jr., even though he’s now injured.

United States

C Buster Posey

1B Max Muncy

2B Marcus Semien

SS Brandon Crawford

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