It’s A Shame There’s No Olympic Baseball


This is a case where the rest of the world really did gang up on the United States. We are in the midst of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and baseball is not part of the Games. Nor is softball, presumably because it reminds international athletic governing bodies of baseball. We’ve got fencing on demand and doubles synchronized swimming polluting the airwaves, but no baseball. Bummer.

You’ve got the greatest professional basketball players in the world, from LeBron James to Kobe Bryant, competing for gold medals, but no baseball. You’ve got the best athletes in just about every sport in the world from canoe and kayak to judo watchable just about 24 hours a day, but no baseball.

It’s not as if baseball was such a foreign concept to the Olympic movement. The sport was added to the program in 1996 (at the same time as softball for women) and in an era where baseball has become quite a bit more multi-national at the Major League level, it seemed appropriate. Just the other day I was at a game between the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres at Great American Ball Park and each time a batter came to the plate not only were his statistics flashed on a fan board, but his hometown and his nationality was explicity singled out and reported. You would haven’t seen that a few years ago.

Of course it has been problematic for the United States to field its most powerful team in the Olympics–it was never going to happen–because of the inconvience of timing. The Games take place during the summer months when the majors are in full swing.  The U.S. adapted by sending college stars and minor leaguers with promise. We can deal with that. Better to be part of the world’s grandest sporting spectacle than not to be invited at all–like now.

While superstars of the sport were not going to shed their regular team uniforms to put on Team USA uniforms for a couple of weeks, those who handled the selections for the teams did pinpoint some guys with talent who went on to do good things in the pros. Among those on the 1996 U.S. baseball team you may have heard of were R.A. Dickey, Travis Lee, Jacque Jones, Mark Kotsay, and Troy Glaus. Among those on the 2000 team were Ben Sheets, Brett Butler, CC Sabathia, Jon Rauch and Doug Mientkiwiecz. Among those on the 2008 team were Stephen Strasburg, Jason Nix and Matt LaPorta. The Team USA 2004 squad did not even qualify for the Olympics, so no one could say the baseball players were running amok over the competition like American basketball players have.

There was plenty of competition from Japan, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and other nations where baseball has been developing into a Major League-level sport for the better part of a century. Americans were always going to put up with the disadvantage of having their best players otherwise occupied during a Major League season instead of jetting off to join an Olympic team. But eliminating baseball altogether from the Games? Too bad.

It’s unfortunate that if you grow up in the United States as a baseball player you can’t hope to share the fabulous opening ceremony walk or dream of standing on medal podium winning gold with the national anthem playing as you salute. If you’re a baseball player and you want a souvenir gold medal you’ve got to buy it in a pawn shop. That’s the way it is for up-and-coming American baseball players now that their sport has been exiled from the Olympic movement.