Baseball in the Olympics: Born in 1904 to Elimination in 2008
Monday August 6th, 2012
Robert Whitmer: Have you ever loved something so much that the only way to see if it loved you back was to set it free and see if it came back to you? Most people apply this concept to human relationships. The strongest emotions possible by a human are between family members. Husband and wife, parent and child, even sibling to sibling; the emotion of love runs the entire world. Wars have been fought and countries destroyed because of an emotion. If I could, for a moment, steal a set of lines from The Matrix: Revolutions about love. “It’s a… human emotion. Rama-Kandra: No, it is a word. What matters is the connection the word implies. I see that you are in love. Can you tell me what you would give to hold on to that connection?” What would you give? This word is often times tossed around with reckless abandon. We often say it without considering the aforementioned connection that the word implies. When someone or something that we have connected this word to leaves us, or is no longer available to us, we go through a withdrawal. We yearn for it, strive for it, and in the most extreme of circumstances, kill for it. You are reading this right now because you have a love for a sport. Don’t deny it, because you know that it’s true. You watch it, study it, and put aside mere mundane tasks to be near it. Isn’t that what you do for things that you love? You… no we are here because we love the sport of baseball but has it always loved us back?
We are about a week into the 30th Olympiad. We have our usual events that grab out attention for three weeks out of every four years. If you try to sit there and tell me that you follow USA handball team then I will sit here and call you a liar. I can probably count on one hand the number of sports that are in the Olympics that are even on TV in those four years. Only because of national pride do the Olympics get the ratings that it does. There has been talk of including new sports and events into the Olympics but then they continue to take events out. One of the more recent sports to get the axe was baseball. During a 2005 IOC meeting, it was decided that baseball and softball would no longer (starting in 2012) be included in the Olympic Games. This is not going to be a bash the Olympics read, but more represent a discussion as to why I feel that baseball is not an Olympic event. To understand this, we must start at the beginning. Let us hop in our time machine and travel back to a time when baseball was king.
When our parents, and for some of us grandparents, were kids baseball was in its heyday. Ted Williams, Joe Dimaggio, and Jackie Robinson ruled the world. Players came and went, played the game and gave the fans a show. They grew the brand and popularity of the sport to the point where the players up and decided that they needed to be paid more for doing what had been done for 60 years previous. When I say paid more I’m not talking about a couple of dollars here and there because of inflation. We are talking millions of dollars. In 1979 you had Nolan Ryan become the first MLB player to be paid one million dollars for one year of playing baseball. In 1995 Roger Clemens was the first to break the $5,000,000 paycheck for one year of playing baseball. This was the beginning of the end for baseball in the Olympics. When players started seeing other players get the big paydays for being good at what they do, they started doing what it took to be the best at what they do. From the mid 90’s to the mid 2000’s, the players would get more money the further they hit the baseball or the faster they could throw it. Enter the steroids into the game.
The year was 1998 and I was a senior in high school. McGwire and Sosa had just finished up their epic home run race and I was sitting in English class counting down the minutes until I got out of there and was able to go to lunch. We were assigned a paper to write for the class due the following Friday on a current event happening in the world. I picked the topic of how Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had single-handedly saved the game of baseball from extinction. Little did I know the circumstances that surrounded that chase. After McGwire broke the single season home run record in 1998 and Barry Bonds beat that mark only three years later, people started to dig. People wanted to know how a player that had never hit more than 50 home runs in a previous season would increase that statistic by 20+ in a season’s time. Players were juicing and trying to get a competitive edge in order to be the best player they possibly could and they got caught doing it. The sport had to get clean. It really had no other choice. Cheating to get better at something, although it might produce a more exciting game, was not something that the fans wanted. The game had been corrupted. People that had connected “love” to the emotions that they felt while watching baseball had scorned yet again. It was either clean up the game, or the game loses the fans; so clean it up it was.
Flash forward to 2005 at the IOC meeting again and we see how the steroid era ruined it for everyone else who played the game the way Abner Doubleday meant it to be played. You see the IOC (international Olympic committee) has a very strict anti-doping policy. In an official statement by IOC head Jacques Rogge he says “To be on the Olympic program is an issue where you need universality as much as possible. You need to have a sport with a following, you need to have the best players and you need to be in strict compliance with WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). And these are the qualifications that have to be met. When you have all that, you have to win hearts. You can win the mind, but you still must win hearts.” How many of those criteria does the sport of baseball have? There is a following, teams from all over the world (universality) can put out a team with the best players from their respective countries, and they can be in compliance with WADA; or can they? How many years did we have the best players in the game not in compliance with WADA or even the drug testing policy that was in force at the time?
We still have players that have positive tests find their ways around getting the punishment that the rules they agreed to play by say that they should receive. We sit here and complain and wonder why we can’t have baseball as an Olympic sport any more when the answer is right in front of our faces. We are shocked when athletes from various countries get disqualified from events or the games in general when they test positive for PED’S. I’m sure if it happens enough times from a certain country then they would not be allowed to compete in that event for a specified period of time. Baseball is receiving the Olympic version of the NCAA Football death penalty because of repeated inconsistencies with regards to compliance to Olympic rules; so why we so shocked that there are no baseball events in the Olympics?
Let us finish by revisiting how we started and the word love. I can appreciate where everyone who argues for baseball to be an Olympic sport again. That shows passion, and love for a game that has done more to alienate us as a common fan that it has to draw us in. Why do we keep going back to it then? I compare it to the bad (insert food type here) restaurant that makes you sick every time you eat it but you continue to go back to it for the sole reason that it is the best of that type of food that you have ever eaten. As humans, we are creatures of habit and as such we continue to go back. The players strike because they wanted more money and the World Series gets cancelled for the first time in 90 years, and we go back. Players give inaccurate representations of their abilities by taking steroids in order to get more money, and we go back. Owners who sign players to ridiculous contracts because of those misrepresentations of their abilities now have to pay those enormous contracts to the players so they raise ticket prices, and we go back. Teams shut down their star pitchers 3/4ths of the way through the season but we still go pay the ticket prices for a chance to see that player come out of the bullpen only to have him not even be at the stadium and we end up wasting our money, and we go back.
You see, baseball keeps burning us, but we go back because we love the game. We love how it makes us feel and the stories that we can turn around and share with our posterity because we hold out the hope that one day baseball might actually do something for us. Until that day comes, we will keep fighting and holding out the hope that the sport will get on track and make a resurgence into the Olympic games reconnecting the word “love” with the emotion that we feel seeing those 5 rings on the same grass. The same feeling that we hold for the players we live and die with from April to October every year.
***Today’s feature was prepared by Robert Whitmer, MLB reports Baseball Writer. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Robert on Twitter (@rwhitmer)***
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Posted on August 6, 2012, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged barry bonds, baseball, jackie robinson, joe dimaggio, mark mcgwire, mlb, nolan ryan, olympics, roger clemens, sammy sosa, ted williams, wbc, will clark, world baseball classic. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.