The London games are coming up later this summer, but for the first time in years, baseball won’t be a part of it. When baseball, along with it’s sister sport* softball, were kicked out (to later be replaced by golf and rugby), the most often cited reasons by the International Olympic Committee were (in no particular order):
- A lack of popularity outside of the Americas and certain parts of Asia
- A steroid problem
- Not having the highest level (i.e. MLBers) play like the NHL and NBA do.
All of these reasons are, to put it some way or another, total crap, and also full of hypocrisy. The real reason for the ejection of the ballgames can be summed up as: “The European dominance in the IOC”, “disputes with the USA over money” and “overzealous cost-cutting”. You see, until recently, the United States Olympic Committee had been in a dispute with the International Olympic Committee over how revenue from the mega sponsorship deals that the USOC has would be distributed. This dispute, more so than any other factor, is believed to have been one of the main reasons that the Olympic bids by New York and Chicago failed. At the same time, the IOC has over the past decade or so been focusing on keeping the costs down on the Olympics, with the admittedly-noble goal of having future games be economically sensible enough that previously priced-out countries could host games. So, when it came time to cut the fat in 2005, it’s hardly surprising that baseball and softball- two sports that often require new facilities, and that are most identified with the USA (who, remember the IOC was in a money dispute with at the time), were cut, and that Golf (which could utilize pre-existing courses) and Rugby (which could use soccer stadiums) were added.
That, according to most observers, were the real reasons. Because the reasons that IOC generally cited were, for the most part, full of crap and hypocrisy.
A lack of popularity outside of the Americas and areas of Asia.
This is relatively true. I say “relatively” true because baseball is, indeed, not as popular as soccer, basketball, etc. in most countries in Europe, Africa, South America, etc. However, there’s a difference between “not being as popular” and “not being popular at all”. There are baseball fans outside of the traditional “baseball countries”, and there are players. Heck, there are full-fledged leagues in the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Australia, and amateur leagues in almost every country that is larger than Rhode Island. Being popular does not mean “unknown” or “not played”.
In addition, the Olympics have several sports that are far less popular globally than baseball and softball. Team Handball, for example, is hardly practiced outside of Europe (especially Eastern Europe, although France does well too) and portions of the Middle East and Asia. And even where it is played, it is a secondary sport, having nowhere near the impact baseball has on the countries where it is popular. I also highly doubt it has ever had as many participants or spectators as baseball/softball has. I also recall reading somewhere that rhythmic gymnastics is rarely practiced outside of the former USSR, to the extent that I can only count three individual medalists from outside of Eastern Europe who have ever won a medal in the sport, and two of those are from 1984, where most of the Soviet Bloc wasn’t even participating!
A steroid problem
If you show me a Olympic sport that doesn’t have problems with performance enhancing drugs, I’ll show you a sport that is delusional. Every sport is going to have drug scandals. It’s just that we make a bigger deal out of baseball drug scandals due to the long history and importance of statistics.
The highest level league doesn’t stop the season and let the best players play.
This is true. But it’s also true for with plenty of other sports. Boxing only lets amateurs box (which is probably for the best, given all the shadiness that surrounds pro-boxing sometimes), and soccer (you know, the most popular sport on the planet?) actively has tried to make Men’s Olympic soccer as irrelevant as possible. This apparently all stems back to how, years and years ago, the Olympics wouldn’t let soccer teams use professionals, so FIFA decided to create the World Cup. Once professionals were allowed, FIFA didn’t want to dilute the shine of the World Cup and didn’t want to delay or interrupt any previously scheduled tournaments such as Europe’s continental championships. So it has made it so that men’s soccer teams in the Olympics have a limit of three players above the age of 23, the rest have to be 23 or under. In essence, every Men’s team in the Olympics is a mashup of prospects with the occasional guy who is over-the-hill.
This is essentially the same setup that baseball had: with MLB going on, the players who were in the Olympics were prospects and over-the-hill guys who had found themselves in the minors. However, the Japanese, Koreans and Cubans were sending teams with players from their top-flight leagues, so, if anything, it could be argued that baseball actually was having better players go to the Olympics than soccer had.
I know, I know, soccer is a sport that is so popular across the world that perhaps it should be allowed to be exempt from the requirement that the best player compete in the Olympics, but it remains hypocrisy, especially as one of the reasons that major soccer players aren’t in the Olympics (Europe has competitions going at the same time) is much the same as why major baseball players couldn’t go (MLB is going at the same time).
But what if they could go? Is there any way that MLB could have at least some presence in the Olympics? I’ll have such a posting sometime in the future.
*Technically, softball isn’t so much a sister sport as it is a child of baseball. It was originally formed as a way of playing baseball indoors during the winter, with a heavier ball so that it would be less likely to be hit far enough to break things.