- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 12, 2008

For all the time Americans will spend watching the Olympics over the next two weeks, little attention will be paid (by the public and by NBC) to the American pastime.

Olympic baseball? Synchronized swimming gets more air time.

Which might be one reason the International Olympic Committee has decided not to hold baseball or softball competitions in London in 2012. The IOC simply doesn’t care about these sports.

And that’s a shame for those who do. How can a game that has been played in the United States for 150 years and continues to grow in popularity here and elsewhere not be a part of the Olympics?

Here’s how: Nobody in Europe plays or watches baseball. And the Olympics, despite what those of us in North America or Asia would like to believe, remain firmly in the control of the Old World. Seven of the eight IOC presidents in modern history have hailed from Europe, including the current man in charge: Belgium’s Jacques Rogge.

How many Belgians do you think can explain the infield fly rule?

There has been plenty of complaining on this side of the pond about the removal of baseball from the Olympic docket after this year, but it’s probably not worth getting upset over. Even in its current form, Olympic baseball hardly is an accurate display of the sport.

For starters, no major league players are allowed to participate. The American squad is made up entirely of minor leaguers and college players.

Then there is the unfathomable rule change instituted for this summer’s games: Once a game enters the 11th inning, two runners are automatically put on base, and the manager gets to decide which hitter he wants at the plate. (This would not have made Ty Cobb feel happy.)

Most importantly, the Olympic baseball tournament is not an accurate competition of the best players in the world. Here are the eight countries participating this year: the United States, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Cuba, South Korea, China and the Netherlands (which actually gets all its players from Caribbean territories like Aruba and Curacao).

Where’s the Dominican Republic? Puerto Rico? Venezuela? Mexico?

They’re nowhere in the vicinity of Beijing, thanks to the IOC qualifying format that only allows eight countries to compete in the games, including a European champion and the host nation. (China had no baseball program until it was awarded these games seven years ago.)

Fans who want a true international baseball tournament should give up on the Olympic idea and throw their full support behind the World Baseball Classic, which was a huge success in its debut two years ago and will be back next spring.

The WBC has all the top nations, not to mention all the top major leaguers. Oh yeah, and the rules don’t change in the 11th inning.

Look, it would be nice if baseball could become an Olympic staple and garner the same attention afforded to basketball and ice hockey. But it’s not going to happen.

So forget about trying to force the American pastime on the IOC and embrace the international baseball event that actually understands the importance of our favorite sport.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide