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March 7, 2017

Robert Manfred

Tokyo, Japan

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: I can't tell you how pleased I am to be back in Japan. I've been fortunate enough over the years to enjoy a number of trips here, all for baseball games, but I'm particularly excited about this trip.

The World Baseball Classic, one of my personal favorite events, I think it is the premiere international baseball event. It provides an opportunity for the best players in the world to play against one another, and it provides that opportunity, along with the honor, of being able to play for your country.

I think the combination of those two things makes the event spectacular, and I'm sure we're going to see some great baseball here in Japan.

Q. This is the fourth annual WBC tournament. What does the WBC mean to you?
COMMISSIONER MANFRED: I think the WBC is the cornerstone of our effort to internationalize the game of baseball.

You have to, in order to grow the game around the world, you have to give people an opportunity to see the best players in the world, and the WBC is uniquely designed to accomplish that.

In addition to that, I think the funding from the WBC is absolutely crucial, the funding that goes back to the federations from the countries that participate, in order to continue the development of the game and the development of the young people playing the game around the world.

Q. This is the fourth tournament, and this is a different country, and all the players, a bunch of players are coming from different countries. What do you expect for all the athletes?
COMMISSIONER MANFRED: I expect that we will see some great baseball performances from athletes around the world, not just major league players, but great players that play here in Japan, in Korea, Cuba. And I think we'll see some interesting developments.

I think that one of the things that's exciting about this year's tournament, is everybody has a chance to win. We saw a little upset last night in Korea. Israel beat the Koreans, and I think that's great for the tournament. It shows that the quality of baseball being played around the world is getting better every day.

Q. Not only in Japan, but all over the world, baseball fans is expecting to have the fifth annual WBC. What do you think about the future?
COMMISSIONER MANFRED: All of us at major league baseball are 100 percent committed to the continuation and growth of the WBC. It's a key part of our strategy internationally. We think it has the potential to become an even bigger and better event, and we will be back in four years with another WBC.

Q. In the future, personally, are you planning to have more countries joining into the tournament?
COMMISSIONER MANFRED: I think over the long haul, we would like to be able to accommodate as many countries who would be able to and interested in playing competitively in the event. That's why we went to the qualifying rounds in the last tournament and continued them this tournament.

Our overall goal is more participation, as countries become ready to participate in an event like this.

Q. I would like to ask in Japanese. In 2020, Tokyo, the City of Tokyo holds the Olympics, and we, the Japanese, are the host country. It's a little different than the WBC, but generally speaking, it's an international competition. But we have a rumor that after 2020 Olympics, that baseball is out of the Olympics. That's the rumor. Although, I understand that Major League Baseball committee is difficult for the Major League Baseball players to send the active players for the Olympic Games. But I believe that this is a big part to expand baseball. What do you think about -- what is your opinion?
COMMISSIONER MANFRED: The biggest thought first. Major League Baseball is fully supportive of the idea that baseball belongs in the Olympics. It's a sport played around the world. Our view, it's the greatest game in the world, and it deserves to be an Olympic sport.

I hope that after 2020, the IOC decides to continue baseball as part of the Olympic Programme. I think it's important to the development of the game around the world.

With respect to the participation of the major league players, there are logistical issues that are difficult; you alluded to those issues. I had a nice meeting with the Japanese commissioner today. I told him that we are anxious to hear from the softball and baseball confederation as to what the exact plans for the Olympic Games in 2020 are, and we will make every effort to cooperate in the process of having a great Olympic tournament here in Tokyo; consistent with the needs of our season and the integrity of the competition of Major League Baseball.

So I think if everybody remains flexible, we can have a great baseball tournament in Tokyo and hopefully that tournament will convince the IOC that baseball belongs in the Olympics beyond 2020.

Q. Talking about the season of the WBC, is this season good for the WBC tournament in the future?
COMMISSIONER MANFRED: I think one of the challenges for this event has always been the calendar. It's very difficult. To find the ideal time to play this tournament consistent with the seasons of the professional leagues and the post-season, particularly of Major League Baseball. We believe that this spot in the calendar has been the most workable one for the first four events. It's not perfect. But it is the most workable one.

As we move forward, we're going to continue to talk about the calendar because it does present a challenge, and we remain open to the discussion of other possibilities with respect to the calendar that might help the growth of this event.

Q. Can you talk the relationship with Cuba and MLB, what is the future, in 2021, can we go with a united team?
COMMISSIONER MANFRED: Let me take the two parts there. We had a really tremendous visit to Cuba last spring. It resulted in a dialogue that continues about issues of mutual concern to the Cubans and to Major League Baseball, the principle issue there being freedom of movement of players from Cuba to come and play in Major League Baseball, and at least from our perspective, hopefully the ability to return to Cuba during the off-season. Those conversations are ongoing.

With respect to a unified team, we have been very even-handed with respect to the formation of rosters. And what I mean by that is we've left it to the individual federations to decide how and who is going to make up the team that represents their country.

You know, the Cuban federation made the decision it made with respect to the competition of its roster. We would have made major league players available. I know there were some major league players who were interested in playing for Cuba, but the federation made the decision that they thought was most appropriate at that point in time. In 2021, the federation will have an opportunity to revisit that question.

Q. According to the Japanese 28-man roster, only one major league active player is on the roster for Team Japan. Some of them declined the offer. Some of the clubs have their own rules. What is your expectation for the future?
COMMISSIONER MANFRED: Let me be clear. Players have a right under our collective bargaining agreement to make a decision as to whether or not they want to play in the WBC.

Some players are ineligible because they were injured at the end of last year, and that affected some high-profile players who might have played for Japan. Other players made a decision that they wanted to be with their major league club during spring training, but those are player decisions. They are not club decisions.

Looking forward, what we will do, what we did during this tournament, and we will re-double our efforts in 2021, is try to encourage the best players to participate in the event, recognizing that they have freedom of choice with respect to the event. I think the quality of the rosters overall in this year's event is the best we've ever had, and we look to build on that the next time around.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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