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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ask sports: Why did baseball get dropped from the Olympics?


Why did baseball get dropped from the Olympics?

This is the first Olympics since 1980 to not include baseball in some form, being a demonstration sport in 1984 and 1988 and gaining full medal status in 1992.

In 2005 the International Olympic Committee dropped baseball and softball from the 2012 program. Softball teams first competed in the Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta.

There is no single reason why the sports were dropped, but rather a series of events that caused their Olympic demise.

The first step came in the 1990s when the IOC decided to cap the number of sports included in any Summer Olympics to 28. Prior to that decision the Olympic schedules had grown from the traditional sports to include newer sports and events such as synchronized swimming, rhythmic gymnastics or the reintroduction of older Olympic sports such as tennis.

With an evergrowing list of sports in the bullpen vying to get into the Olympics, some sports were in jeopardy of losing their spots.

Baseball and softball suffered from the regional nature of the sports — softball more than baseball. Each sport is popular in North and South America and east Asia. Neither has much interest in Europe, where a large amount of the IOC’s influence comes from.

There is a fair amount of parity within those regions for baseball — Cuba won three gold medals and the United States and South Korea one each. Softball had much less, with the U.S. only losing one of the four gold medals awarded, and that came in 2008, three years after the sport’s fate had been decided.

While the Americans’ dominance in softball contributed to its undoing, the opposite problem was the case for baseball, where Major League Baseball’s schedule prevented the top players from playing for their countries.

Unlike the NHL which shuts the league down for two weeks every four years to field Olympic teams, MLB was never willing to do that. The American team initially consisted solely of amateur players — Mark McGwire played on the ’84 team before joining the Athletics organization. Professionals were later added with the stipulation that they could not be on major-league rosters.

That meant U.S. teams were filled with possible major leaguers, but no established stars, unlike what basketball went to in 1992.

After the 2005 vote, in which the much less globally popular modern pentathlon was saved, baseball and softball appealed the decision. It was denied a year later. The sports will also not be on the 2016 docket, after an IOC vote in 2009. Two sports will join the 2016 program in Rio de Janerio: golf and rugby sevens.

Golf, which had been in the 1900 and 1904 games, is expected to draw some of the top golfers. Their assent was important in the sport’s inclusion.

Rugby sevens is a version of the sport which gets huge television ratings for its major international competitions.

Baseball and softball have teamed up to prepare joint bids for their inclusion in 2020 and beyond. MLB has not moved from its scheduling position, preferring instead to support the World Baseball Classic which has been held twice and is scheduled for next year.

Who were some of the best players on each U.S. Olympic baseball team?

Stephen Strasburg (2008), Ben Sheets (2000), J.D. Drew (1996), Darren Dreifort (1992), Tino Martinez (1988) and McGwire (’84).

The Americans didn’t qualify in 2004.

Joshua Wood

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