Monday, April 30, 2012
Making A Pitch for Olympic Baseball and Softball
Team Korea celebrates after winning the gold medal in Baseball over Cuba at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, avenging disappointing results at the World Baseball Classic.
By Allen Bacon, The Daily Bosco
Why was the 2008 Olympics in Beijing the last for Softball and Baseball? Why do sports like Curling, and Rhythmic Gymnastics, and Table tennis, and synchronized swimming or bicycle motocross get to stay while Softball and Baseball get the heave-ho? Why did even the Architectural Monstrosity the Birdnest get to stay over Softball and Baseball.
I am completely puzzled. Was anybody paying attention to the baseball and softball games at the past Olympics? I was. Thanks to www.nbcolympics.com
First of all, I couldn't find a more compelling match in baseball than China against Chinese Taipei. A game that went extra innings. If I have to explain the significance of that game...pull out a world history book.
Then there was a great game between USA and Cuba that went down to the final out.
The game that got the most attention however was the China-USA game. USA took out China's top two catchers with aggressive base-running plays at the plate. The Chinese retaliate by throwing and beaning one of the USA players and sent him to the hospital. Then, in a Natural moment, the third string catcher for China comes up and hits one out. There were brawls and manager ejections. This was like the baseball version of The Untouchables...you know the part where Sean Connery says "You stab one of our guys...we shoot one of your guys...you shoot one of our guys we send one of your guys to the morgue...that's the Chicago Way."
Everybody was complaining about the lack of sportsmanship in that game. You know what? What's the difference between that and a Red Sox-Yankee game or a Dodger-Giant game. We love to talk about all the stuff that happens in those rivalries and when it happens at the Olympics we suddenly wring our hands? That's nonsense. Or you haven't played the game. When you step between the lines and the first pitch is thrown all bets our off. One of our American baseball heroes Ty Cobb once said "Baseball is War". And the part that you didn't probably hear is that China and the USA came out after that game and shook hands...after the game.
And the gold medal game? Korea vs. Cuba. It didn't get any better than that. Go back to the World Baseball Classic in 2006. Korea was cruising to a championship. They had beaten Japan two times during the tournament but didn't get the deal done. Japan's Manager Sahara Oh made a few tweaks in the lineup and Japan came out on top there. Korea beats Cuba at the Olympics and gets some sweet revenge. USA gets a bronze. Surprised? You shouldn't be. The USA hasn't produced the best players in the world for quite a while. Think of most of the top players right now in the MLB...from other countries.
And in softball? Only the biggest upset of the games. Team USA was in cruise control to win yet another gold medal. They had beaten Japan two times...once in the prelims and once in the semi-finals. Somewhere in between games, Japan figured out USA and went on to the upset and win the gold medal, 3-1. One of the criticisms of softball was that USA dominated. Not anymore.
Critics of baseball in the Olympics site the MLB's lack of interest as one of the reasons. And I say, So What? If the MLB doesn't recognize the marketing potential of this then play without them and their players. MLB really should do what NHL hockey does. Shut down for two weeks in the Olympic year and let the best players play. But so far they haven't been willing to do that...so I say play without them. And in the case of Team USA...it really doesn't matter if we have our "dream team" out there. Look at what that got us in the World Baseball Classic. No medals. At least in Beijing our minor leaguers won a bronze.
The game is more important. Actually, all the players have to do is make a clause in their contracts that says they get to take two weeks off in the Olympic year to tryout and play for their country. Get a lot of players to do that...and that will get the MLB's and the Player Unions attention and they will close for a couple of weeks.
Another criticism is the current format in the Olympics. One of the rules for instance places a runner to start the inning to conclude the game sooner. My response to that? If enough people don't like the rules...change the rules so a majority likes it.
As an aside, there is nothing wrong with having a tie in the preliminaries. If the game isn't decided in 11 or 12 innings and that's it. You set up a series of tiebreakers when the prelims are completed. Then in the medal rounds the teams can go as long as they need. That's how they do it in the Japanese Pro Leagues.
The fact is baseball is one of the oldest and greatest games and it needs to remain in the Olympics. Maybe the format needs to be changed...but baseball and softball should be reinstated for the next Summer Olympiad.