Olympic baseball deserves a chance
It’s hard keeping up with the motives and responsibilities that drive the International Olympics Committee. My understanding is that its goal is to unite the world in competition, allowing athletes from across the globe to represent their nations through acts of athleticism.
This sounds like a committee you could actually get on board with and support – that is, until they start to deny the right to compete.
The 2008 Olympics concluded Sunday, and with it the status of baseball and softball as official Olympic sports. As of 2012, these sports will no longer be a part of the Games. Considering each baseball team has 25 players, each softball team has 15 and eight teams compete in each event, an estimated 300 athletes will miss the 2012 games.
Proving their worth
Baseball has overcome many obstacles to become a medal event. In the 1912 Olympic Games it was played as an exhibition game by athletes already participating in other events. The 1936 Berlin Games didn’t supply any teams other than the U.S., so the American team split into two squads and played against each other in front of a record crowd of about 100,000.
Baseball almost caught its big break in 1940 when it was given status as an "official sport" because of the success of the New York Yankees and phenomenal slugger Babe Ruth. Unfortunately, the breakout of World War II and subsequent cancellation of the Japanese Olympics killed any chance for the game’s breakthrough.
Finally on Oct. 13, 1986, the IOC gave baseball official status, and it was first played as a medal competition in the 1992 Games in Barcelona.
The U.S. has won one gold medal – at the Sydney Games in 2000 – since baseball’s official status. The U.S. also won a bronze medal in 1996.
However, after years of struggling to make its mark on the Olympics, baseball finds itself back at square one.
Ladies’ short reign
As baseball progressed so did its sister sport, softball. Following baseball’s 1992 debut, softball inherited official sport status and began play in the 1996 games in Atlanta.
The U.S. squad’s success quickly surpassed that of its male counterparts as it won the first softball gold medal in Olympic history. In its inaugural season, the U.S. softball team only lost one game over the course of the Olympic tournament. Its first victory was followed by gold medals in the 2000 and 2004 Games.
At one point during the Beijing Games, the U.S. outscored opponents 53-1 as pitching dealt back-to-back no-hitters. The team, however, finished second for the first time in the sports’ Olympic history, losing to Japan in the final.
Despite its success and mobility throughout the world, softball’s young history will be only that, cut down in its prime.
So what is the IOC implying by scratching these two sports off the Olympic Games list? That these sports aren’t worth all that trouble anymore?
Each game faces a different "reason" for being dropped from the 2012 Games. Baseball faces the fact that there are no big names on the field. With the MLB season in full swing during the summer games, major league players aren’t available to participate. The athletic drive and motivation of college kids and young prospects apparently aren’t enough to keep the games going.
Softball faces problems on the opposite end of the spectrum: players who are too good. The IOC wants the best athletes of each event, but the U.S. softball team seems one juggernaut too many. So the baseball teams aren’t good enough and the softball team is too good.
Both events apparently aren’t bringing in enough revenue, which could be a tribute to their fan base. It’s hard for me to believe the trampoline event is bringing more fans to the stands than an international sport like baseball. I wonder if shot put has ever packed 100,000 fans into one stadium.
Despite attendance issues, revenue should not be the issue. Money is already a big factor in professional sports. The Olympics are supposed to be a relief from that greed, a chance to see athletes driven by desire and performing with pride.
Athletes must continue to compete with their hearts, not their wallets – with pride, not popularity.
That should be the motive behind the IOC. That should be its goal. Unfortunately, we have to say goodbye to playing ball… for now.