TOKYO, Japan — The USA baseball team is going for gold against the Olympic hosts Japan in Tokyo on Saturday, looking to take the Olympic title in the sport for the first time since 2000.
But none of the most recognizable American baseball stars are with the team - the roster is composed of a patchwork of minor leaguers, former MLB players currently with Japanese teams, and recent major leaguers either in free agency or semi-retirement.
So how come the biggest stars of Major League Baseball are nowhere to be found in Tokyo
Basically, Major League Baseball just didn't want them to go.
The U.S. has not been the only team to field a roster missing their best talents - the Dominican Republic, who won the bronze medal, also had to go to Tokyo without their best players.
The reason for that is that MLB wouldn't interrupt its season - which, for instance, Japan's top professional league did - because it would cause a negative financial impact.
Teams don't want to lose game revenue - especially after the pandemic kept fans away entirely last year - and in general the highest-ranking executives at MLB have never been invested in the Olympic tournament.
Players not on a 40-man MLB roster are allowed to go, which is why the team is stocked with minor leaguers who are part of big league organizations, but otherwise the MLB season will continue on without a hiccup.
Major League Baseball did launch its own version of an international sort of World Cup - called the World Baseball Classic - that featured big-time stars. The inaugural tournament was held in 2006 and cycled every three or four years through 2017, but the most recent expected WBC tournament was upended by the pandemic, and the future of it is now unclear.
The decision to withhold MLB stars from the Olympics in Japan - a country with a deep passion for baseball - did not sit well with some big names.
"It is such a travesty to me," Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies said lsat year on a podcast with Barstool Sports. "The 2020 Olympics, in Japan. 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 [lose] out on money for a two-week period? OK, that's dumb."
Nonetheless, the USA team - featuring the likes of Conyers native Tyler Austin, a former big leaguer, and Columbus, Ga. native Edwin Jackson, who played 17 seasons in the bigs - has gone on an inspiring run in Japan.