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Olympic baseball and softball - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Olympic baseball and softball
I find myself in an odd position here.

The Olympic Committee has voted out softball and baseball. This is not a problem for me--for whatever reason, I tend to think of the Olympics as designed for individual sports--running, gymnastics, weightlifting... the shape of individual excellence, with a kind of nebulous concept of being on a "team" for your country. And I think we need to either pare down the number of sports played or expand the amount of time given to cover them; no one is getting good coverage.

In short, I'm not opposed to yanking several events, and baseball and softball seem like fair targets that wouldn't really mar the spirit of the games too much. I also wouldn't mind losing basketball, soccer/football, or volleyball. And if they drop beach volleyball, I'll even do a little dance.

The decision itself isn't something that bugs me, though of course I suppose it would if I were playing softball and wanted to go to the Olympics. It's not like there's any baseball-like event for women at nearly that level to aim for instead. But as far as the Olympics go, I'm not sure that's my most pressing concern.

The problem is, the reasoning cited is approximately the most idiotic thing I've ever heard.

Baseball, it seems, is "too American."

Umm... okay. Do we drop Greco-Roman wrestling because it's too Greco-Roman? Long distance running because Kenya mops the floor with the rest of the world? Gymastics because the Russians and Romanians have a hammerlock? Oh, wait, the Russians and Romanians don't have a hammerlock anymore, because lots of other people got interested because of the Olympics, and girls started training, and coaches defected, and... next thing you know, there are lots of gymnastics powerhouses and powerhouses-in-the-making there. Figure skating was the same way.

The point of Olympic sport is to expose all kinds of sports to the world. People will like them or not like them, may pick them up and play them, may decide to leave it alone. Baseball has been enthusiasitically picked up in many places--Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Japan... a lot of boys in countries other than the U.S. dream of playing ball, and would probably dig a chance at the Olympics. Seeing it in countries where baseball isn't popular might help the sport catch on (as soccer finally started to do here when we started seeing it more prominently). Why, already a lot of the pro-players in the U.S. aren't actually born here, and...

Oh, but that brings me to the next level.

After the "It's too American" quip, the NYT article reported that Olympic committee members complained that the pros aren't playing.

This bears repeating. They. Complained. That. Pros. Aren't. Playing.

In the Olympics.

You know, the pinnacle of amateur sports. I don't remember which person it was, but the complaint was, "Jeez, the basketball coaches let their guys off to do the Olympics; why don't the baseball coaches?"

I liked the Dream Team the first year it arrived (Barcelona, 1992), but I thought it should have been a one-shot deal. We'd learned that other countries were using their pro players, so we assembled a team to teach a lesson about why the Olympics are a place for amateurs to shine. They wanted pros, they got pros. The pros stomped everyone in sight, as predicted. Lesson learned. This should have been followed up with a very quick crackdown against pro players in the Olympics. The Dream Team shouldn't have returned in 1996 or 2000, and by 2004, even the Dream Team [sic] knew that. One lesson should have been more than enough: keep the pros out of the Olympics. And yes, that means everyone else should be doing so as well. That should have been the point of the Dream Team--"You think it's great that your pros can match our amateurs? Well, it takes two to tango, and if you're sending pros, we'll show you pros." The fallout should have been everyone being forbidden to send pros.

Instead, we get griping that there aren't more pros. Baseball needs to be cut because they aren't sending the pros.

Somebody needs to be thwapped over the head with the Olympic torch.

So I'm in the odd position of arguing against a decision I would have agreed with if they had just not used such mindbogglingly absurd arguments. I don't like that.
23 comments or Leave a comment
ashtur From: ashtur Date: July 13th, 2005 01:00 am (UTC) (Link)
The Olypmics haven't been Amateur for years. the top tennis players play that event, the basketball players are pro and all. Honestly, that's probably why I'm not all that interested in the Olympics.

I find the decision a bit odd, because there are some sports that are still there that are just plain odd (women's team handball?), that are more obscure than softball or the like. Yeah, baseball/softball are limited, in that only some nations play, but it's still a fair chunk of the world, with the Asian nations as well as the Latin American countries.
(Deleted comment)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 13th, 2005 02:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, I didn't say that in the above post. I said it doesn't belong in the Olympics.

That said, no, not really. With any sport, I pretty much watch it if my home team is in a major play off. Otherwise, it's pretty much a shrug.
beaustylo From: beaustylo Date: July 13th, 2005 04:29 am (UTC) (Link)
That's exactly how I feel about sports. Too bad I went to Big-10 school that was extremely into their sports.

Interesting though that you post this on the same day as the All-Star game - which just happens to be in my hometown area tonight.
alphabet26 From: alphabet26 Date: July 13th, 2005 02:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Did you see the movie "Miracle"? They talk about that a little at the end--how since the Olympics now allows professional hockey players, it's changed and another "Miracle" isn't going to happen.

My point here is that I agree with you and with the cognitive dissonance you're now feeling. ;P
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: July 13th, 2005 03:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, the Original Olympics weren't played by amateurs, either....
sixth_light From: sixth_light Date: July 13th, 2005 04:17 am (UTC) (Link)
I can kind of see where they're coming from with baseball. I mean, it's like rugby sevens. Or netball. I adore both of them, but they should never be in the Olympics, because their appeal, while extending to many countries, is still limited in worldwide terms. Baseball is "too American" in that sense. Outside of Japan and those countries geographically close to America...it pretty much doesn't exist. Any sport where one country is allowed to get away with calling their national competition the World Series is, well, of doubtful international status.

Graeco-Roman wrestling, probably the same thing, but that has historical connections and connotations and probably deserves to be left in for those alone.

The real measure of a sport should be - is an Olympic gold medal the pinnacle of the sport? If not, dump it. That means soccer, basketball and tennis are right out. Hockey, too. The Olympic champion should be the best of the best. For things like athletics, rowing, fencing, equestrian events, that's still true. For team sports it pretty much isn't.

Of course, I have a personal bias in this. In fencing, Olympics is _the_ world compeititon. Women's saber was recently introduced, to round out all the different aspects of fencing. But the Olympics committee would not give fencing any more medals, because they said it would cheapen things. This means that every time a different event has to be dropped, to be fair - and sometimes they will be things like men's epee or women's foil which make up the bulk of the competition. This is so mindbogglingly ridiculous that I have no words for it, and I would happily see all ball sports banned from the Olympics to allow female sabreurs to compete without being seen as taking over from others.
sophonax From: sophonax Date: July 13th, 2005 10:55 am (UTC) (Link)
The real measure of a sport should be - is an Olympic gold medal the pinnacle of the sport? If not, dump it. That means soccer, basketball and tennis are right out. Hockey, too.

This makes a good bit of sense--I enjoy the Olympics because they give me a bit of exposure to lots of sports I'm not otherwise at all familiar with. If I already know the sport inside and out, and can see it represented far better by pro leagues, then what's the point?

I wasn't terribly offended by the "too American" remark; the thing is, baseball has had twelve years of Olympic exposure for people outside America, and its popularity hasn't really caught on outside countries with close economic or geographical links to the U.S. There's nothing especially awful about dropping the sports that aren't as popular among an international audience. I am kind of bummed about softball because the American women have kicked SO MUCH ASS, but that's probably just misguided patriotism.

It's a shame about fencing though--I didn't realize there were so many medal categories; I thought it was just foil, saber, and epee, one competition each for men and women. If they're so concerned about one sport getting too many medals, why don't they drop a few of the EIGHTEEN KAZILLION swimming events? You have four separate strokes, plus individual and team medleys, each raced in events of four different distances, all with a medal for both the women's and men's races. If that's not overkill, I don't know what is.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 13th, 2005 01:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
The real measure of a sport should be - is an Olympic gold medal the pinnacle of the sport? If not, dump it.

Absolutely. I think that's why I see it as individual sports--the Olympics really are the only real yardstick for any of them. You might have the World Championships, but they are, psychologically, just prepping for the Olympics, seeing where people rank for the Olympics, etc. That's why I'd exclude rugby--not because it's "too British" or "too Australian."

I was just very offended by the remark, as were a lot of other people. Every sport has its kind of "home country"--that's just the way of the world. Quite enough countries participate in baseball that to write it off as "American" is silly. A lot of the Latin American countries are producing brilliant players.

Who, of course, don't dream of Olympic gold, but of World Series titles. (The Series is theoretically international--the Blue Jays (Toronto) have played, I think--but because of the way the leagues and playoffs are structured, most other countries end up out of the loop. I'd be all in favor of expanding the leagues to include other teams, though of course it's always going to be, like, Tokyo versus Toronto, rather than Japan versus Canada.)
sreya From: sreya Date: July 13th, 2005 06:22 am (UTC) (Link)
Somebody needs to be thwapped over the head with the Olympic torch.

*cracking up* Best line I've seen all week.
alkari From: alkari Date: July 13th, 2005 12:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
There are some countries that DO have ties to the USA - and which still couldn't care less about baseball! Australia for one - we play cricket. As do New Zealand, England, South Africa etc, all of whom also play Rugby.

I think that they should loko at those sports that already have well-defined 'majors' titles of their own, with a long history of international level competition. Tennis for example: there are four major Open titles, so why do tennis players need the Olympics? Isn't trying to win a Grand Slam title, or all four events in the one year, a sufficient pinnacle? Same with golf, with the four majors and a long established history. Football/soccer is in the same category, at least insofar as men's soccer. They already HAVE a world cup, and huge annual regional competitions as in Europe - they don't need the Olympics. Perhaps there would also be an argument for taking purely team sports out eg all the basketball, hockey, football codes, etc. In some sorts they can be played as individuals or teams - rowing for example can have singles, doubles quads and eights - and that woudl allow the team relays in athletics and swimming. But would purely team sports be better outside the Olympics?

I have to say that I hope they always keep the equestiran events. Not only is it 'my' sport, but I suspect it might be the only one where men and women compete on totally equal terms.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 13th, 2005 01:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have to say that I hope they always keep the equestiran events. Not only is it 'my' sport, but I suspect it might be the only one where men and women compete on totally equal terms.

I think you're right about that. There aren't a lot of sports where that would be practical because of upper body strength issues, but equestrian is about very different things. I could see it being excluded because it's "too upper class," though (if the "too American" thing flies on baseball, anything will).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 13th, 2005 02:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
For the record, I agree about tennis--Wimbledon is a much bigger deal than the Olympics in tennis.

Where losing the team sports will hurt is in the women's events in them, as the pro world hasn't done all that well promoting women's teams. After Barcelona and Sydney, our women's basketball was popular enough to give the WNBA a shot in the arm, but they just couldn't maintain any sort of popularity far beyond the Olympics. It was seen as a gimmick. A couple of the women got some endorsements, but Lisa Leslie was certainly never at the Michael Jordan level of popularity, even among girls. Mia Hamm, from our soccer team, got a level of fame, but it went quickly. So I could see women's team sports becoming very upset at losing the Olympics--it really is the big deal. But I can't see how one could keep the women's event but ditch the men's without it coming off as severe gender imbalance.

And honestly, I don't think that should be the Olympics' primary concern. It should look at the sport itself, and not at the side issues involved in it.
litlefallofrain From: litlefallofrain Date: July 13th, 2005 03:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can understand baseball being dropped. Plenty of people come in from all over the world to play American ball. Hideki Matsui (GODZILLA!), Ichiro Suzuki, and plenty of others come from different countries to play baseball in America. Some of these guys are even the stars of their respective teams. All around the world, baseball has a chance to shine on its own, and doesn't really need the Olympics.

But [and granted I might be a bit biased as I've been a softball player since I was 3 years old] softball only has a place in the Olympics. Recently the college softball world series has come under new light, and people are paying attention to that more and more. Amazing pitchers like Jennie Finch and Lisa Fernandez have become idols of the sport (at least for pitchers like me). But these amazing women don't have a chance in the spotlight after college. Sure, there is a professional fastpitch league, but unless you're truely dedicated to the sport, no one has ever heard of any of the teams. I'll admit that I didn't even know them until I looked the website up for this comment. Softball shines in the Olympics, and except for the four years of college ball you might play, there isn't another chance for the sport to be publicly recognized.

I was thoroughly annoyed a couple years ago, when I was 11-years-old and had dreams of Olympic softball, to discover that my beloved sport was possibly going to be replaced by trampolining.

There really isn't another sport for girls with softball talents in the Olympic games.
sophonax From: sophonax Date: July 13th, 2005 05:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Lisa Fernandez absolutely rules. I heard an interview with her on NPR in response to the announcement of softball being dropped, and she was practically in tears. It's got to be extremely tough on the American women, who are just superb athletes all 'round.
litlefallofrain From: litlefallofrain Date: July 13th, 2005 05:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Didn't realise NPR had done a piece on the cut...thanks for the heads up. Just listened, and that was painful. To be replaced by "golf, rugby, karate, roller sports or squash"? That's ridiculous.
From: psalm_27 Date: July 13th, 2005 08:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was living in Columbus, Georgia in the 90s when the Olympics came to Atlanta. Columbus was the lucky city that was chosen to host the first-ever Olympic Softball games. It transformed the city, to include major contruction of a softball stadium/complex. To this day, the city is thriving and I really think it has a lot to due with the world coming to Columbus.

Its sad to think that Olympic softball lived such a short life. As its not a professional sport, it provided an arena for woman softball players all over the world to show their stuff. I agree that the opportunity to inspire has slipped through the fingers of the International Olympic committee.
alkari From: alkari Date: July 13th, 2005 09:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
To be replaced by "golf, rugby, karate, roller sports or squash"?
See my comments above - I would be dead against golf or rugby. Roller sports - just how popular are they worldwide? Of that list, I would say that karate and squash might be the two best bets, and I would lean to karate. I mean, if they have Greco-roman wrestling, then surely karate is worth considering!! It is a sport that is done all round the world, and does not need a huge infrastructure. Squash also has its own championships, though not to the same extent as tennis.

The problems with the lower profile of women's sport cannot be overcome by their inclusion in the Olympics: they are far more fundamental than that. Out here, apart from showing the women's events in the tennis majors, the only women's sports we get on free to air TV are golf (some of the tournaments) and - believe it or not, netball. Netball, rather than basketball, is hugely popular at school level, and there is a thriving national league. In terms of actual numerical participation, it really is a major sport in Australia.

But no matter how talented the participants are, no matter how spectacular the events are when shown at the Olympics, for some reason the community as a whole simply does not accept most women's sport as being at the same level as men's sport, and the heroines of those sports are simply not regarded with the same level of adulation as the equivalent people in men's sports. Why that remains so, despite all the strides made over the last two generations of women in terms of equality in so many areas of life, is a puzzle worthy of many a PhD study!!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 13th, 2005 09:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd definitely say karate would be a terrific Olympic sport.

In "women's sports"--figure skating and gymnastics--women have more prominent competition, but women's team sports? Fuhgeddaboudit.

What's interesting to me is that gender feminism likes to talk about how women are the cooperative ones, while men are the competitive ones--but the sports women tend to excel in and make names for themselves in--and which are more popular--are the ones which feature individual vs. individual competition (like tennis) or individual vs. standard (like gymnastics and figure skating).

A lot of the team sports use a lot of upper body strength, so the women's competitions, because of differences there, tend to lag behind in terms of cool feats, or strength-based maneuvers, which tend to be the crowd-pleasers. If any sport could have made the crossing, it was basketball, which has a lot more hand-eye coordination and a lot less pushing around the court. But because women's sports are thought of as being played at a lower level (because the standard is different), they're treated as "second tier" sports, not the Real Thing. They're modified and "diminished." (Which actually shouldn't have scare quotes around it--when the standard is lower, it is a diminshed form of the sport, whether we like it or not.) I remember when they were pushing the WNBA, some sports fans (not just women) were talking about finding it more interesting because it was back to the level of playing the game and removed from all the showboating.

Of course, the showboating brings in viewers, because it seperates out individuals for the audience to identify with and play vicariously through.

The sports that depend more on precision of sight, coordination, and so on--the gymnastics and figure skating of the world--then become "women's ghettoes," and men who do the sport suffer from automatic stigmas.

fearlesstemp From: fearlesstemp Date: July 13th, 2005 11:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Comparing NBA players' involvement in the Olympics with baseball players' involvement is ridiculous. The Summer Olympics take place around August (right?), which is when a lot of the races for division titles and wild card positions really heat up in baseball. Before you even ask yourself if any players would want to step away from that to play in the Olympics, there's also the question of whether or not any teams would even LET their best players go (or any major league players go). As we all know, they get paid lots of money to play baseball. It's their job (hence the professional title) and baseball players can't just randomly take a couple weeks off in the heat of the season because they want to. Teams get a day off a week, usually, and individual players almost never get more than a day or two for anything not injury-related.

Basketball players can go because they're not playing when the Summer Olympics happen. See what happens if they make basketball an Olympic sport; don't think there'll be much of a Dream Team then.

So dumb!
fearlesstemp From: fearlesstemp Date: July 13th, 2005 11:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Okay, so I totally meant to edit that comment after running spell check - I was not prepared for it to go right through. I never spell everything right on LJ! Anyway, I just realized how huffy my comment sounds and want to make sure you know it's not directed at you, but at the idiots at the IOC.
fearlesstemp From: fearlesstemp Date: July 13th, 2005 11:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Okay! I spelled everything right, but forgot a word! It's supposed to read, "See what happens if they make basketball a Winter Olympics sport" - sorry about that.
gold_mustang From: gold_mustang Date: July 14th, 2005 01:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Ok, I know I'm going to cause all sorts of mayhem, but may I say something?

The way I see it, it all comes down to economics. They don't think they can get rid of some of the older sports (yet), and they are being pressured to add new ones every Olympiad. X-Games are wanting to get into the Olympics for crying out loud! Why not pull the newest ones added that haven't really brought in the big money world wide from television, and other ticket sales. Those stadiums are expensive to built folks.

Will Beijing NEED multiple baseball and softball fields and stadiums after the 2008 games? Would London after the 2012? NO, but if NEW YORK had been awarded the games, this decision might have been different.

I know this really going to be a BIG no-no, BUT after all the judging problems they had in the last Winter and Summer games (Figure skating, and gymnastics) it makes me wonder if the judged events aren't the ones that should be given the boot.

Oooooh, I can hear the collective gasps from here. You know they won't do it! Those events are some of their biggest tickets sellers and highest priced television shares. (Well, I don't know about the synchronized swimming.)

Bottom line, it's all about the money folks.
23 comments or Leave a comment