Olympic Baseball History
On October 13, 1986, The International Olympic Committee gave baseball official sport status, beginning with the 1992 Games in Barcelona. When the first "official" pitch was thrown, on July 26, 1992, at L’Hospitalet Stadium in Barcelona, Spain, history was made and more than 80 years of hard work by amateur baseball officials worldwide had finally paid off. On that day, baseball made its debut as an official Olympic sport. No more demonstration games. This time it was for an official gold medal.
The Early Years
Baseball was first introduced as part of the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. In this competition, as well as the next four Olympic appearances, baseball was a one-game exhibition played by athletes already competing at the games in other events. On July 15, a team from the United States downed the Swedish Vesteras Club 13-3, and Olympic baseball was born.
After a 24-year hiatus, baseball reappeared as part of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Although other countries had planned to send teams for the tournament, none of them did, so the USA squad split into two teams and played a night game before a world record crowd reported to be 125,000. The World Amateurs defeated the USA Olympics by a score of 6-5.
In the late 1930s, with the success of the New York Yankees and Babe Ruth, baseball’s popularity had grown worldwide. So popular was the sport, that it was scheduled to be an official Olympic sport at the 1940 Games in Japan. However, the outbreak of World War II led to a cancellation of the Games and the enthusiasm to add baseball waned.
It reappeared 12 years later in 1952 in Helsinki, Finland. That game matched Finland’s champion team against a group of Americans from the Olympic Village, coached by the manager of the U.S. soccer team. Using borrowed equipment, the U.S. played and won a practice game against a team from Venezuela 14-6. This game served as a tune-up for its game against Finland. Playing before only 4,000 fans, the Americans scored seven first-inning runs and cruised to a 19-1 rout of the Finns.
Baseball returned to the Olympics in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia, in a game matching a team of Americans against a squad from Australia. The U.S. team consisted of military personnel from the U.S. Far East Command which was flown to the game by the U.S. Air Force. Played on a field which was used later that day for the track and field competition, the game began before only a few thousand fans. However, thanks to early arriving track and field fans, the crowd reached almost 100,000 and saw the U.S. post an 11-5 win.
Legendary University of Southern California Coach Rod Dedeaux assembled a team to participate in the 1964 Olympic Games at Tokyo, Japan. This exhibition game against Japan was to be the last time Olympic baseball competition would be a one-game event. Without question, this U.S. team was the best organized team to that point. Several of its players went on to play in the major leagues, including Chuck Dobson, Mike Epstein, Ken Suarez and Gary Sutherland. Having toured Japan competing against a Far East All-Star team in preparation for the Olympics, the U.S. team was in top form when it reached Tokyo and posted a 6-2 victory.
1984: Olympic Baseball Comes To Los Angeles
Rod Dedeaux returned twenty years later in his hometown of Los Angeles, Calif., for the 1984 Olympic Games. This event also marked the first tournament format in Olympic baseball history, as more than 385,000 people watched while eight teams participated.
With current major league stars such as Will Clark, Barry Larkin, and Mark McGwire on the roster, the team was considered to be the greatest amateur team ever put on the diamond by the United States. This talent laden squad breezed through the round-robin portion of the schedule and easily downed Korea in the semifinals. The team advanced to the gold medal game against Japan without having been beaten. Its good fortune and home-field advantage ended there, however, as the Japanese stunned the heavily favored Americans by a score of 6-3, to capture the gold medal.
1988: Golden In Seoul
The 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea, marked the seventh time that baseball was part of the Olympic Games. It was also to be the final time baseball would have demonstration sport status. With 10 players returning from the 1987 Pan American Games team, this USA team was truly experienced on the international scene. Playing the longest pre-Olympic schedule in USA history (48 games), the team headed to Seoul on a mission get the gold that eluded the 1984 team. In its first game, the U.S. team faced a stern test, but downed host Korea 5-3. The team then went on to rout Australia by a 12-2 margin and clinched the top spot in its division. Although the team finished preliminary round play by dropping an 8-7 verdict to Canada, it headed into a semifinal match-up with Puerto Rico focused on its goal.
With right-hander Ben McDonald hurling his second complete game, the USA easily downed Puerto Rico 7-2 to set up a rematch of the 1984 final game against Japan. This time the outcome was different, as first baseman Tino Martinez belted two homers and drove in four runs. Shortstop Dave Silvestri added an RBI single to support the complete game pitching of Jim Abbott which led the USA to a 5-3 win for the gold medal.
1992: Baseball Becomes "Official" In Barcelona
Baseball had finally gotten rid of the tag of demonstration sport in 1992, and USA Baseball’s hopes for winning a gold medal were high. The defending gold medal champions had many of the best college baseball players in the United States. However, in Barcelona they would quickly realize that recapturing the gold medal would be no simple task.
The U.S. team fared well in the round-robin portion of the tournament, winning games over Spain (4- 1), Chinese Taipei (10-9), Italy (10-0), Puerto Rico (8-2), and the Dominican Republic (10-0), which gave them a berth in the medal round. But losses to Cuba (9-6) and Japan (7-1), were grim premonitions of what was to come.
USA faced Cuba in the semifinal game of the medal round, but the bigger, more experienced and mature Cubans were too much for the young Americans. Cuba, the eventual gold medal winners who did not lose a single game in the Olympic tournament, defeated the USA by a score of 6- 1. The young Americans still had a chance for the bronze medal versus Japan, who had lost in the semifinals to Chinese Taipei. But without a day’s rest, the USA team was unable to overcome an early four-run lead by the Japanese team and ended up losing 8-3 to finish in fourth place.
1996: The Road To Atlanta
On July 19, 1996, at Fulton-County Stadium in Atlanta, America’ s finest amateur athletes will be faced with the challenge of recapturing the Olympic gold medal for the United States in baseball. While baseball is the national pastime of the United States, the USA Baseball Team will face stiff competition at the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
With the emergence of world powers such as Cuba, Chinese Taipei, and Japan, the USA Baseball Team cannot expect to win every game it plays. This is a testament to the ever-growing popularity of baseball around the world. Currently there are 89 countries in the International Baseball Association, the international governing body for amateur baseball. This substantial number of member countries is the culmination of more than 80 years of promoting America’ s pastime to the rest of the world. It will be a matter of pride for the USA Baseball Team to win at the ‘96 Games, as the team will represent its country and national pastime on home soil.
The USA Baseball Team’ s preparation is well under way for the Games in Atlanta. The 1995-96 coaching staff was selected at the end of 1994. Since USA Baseball players come from colleges across the nation, they are unable play together on a year-round basis. However, it is USA Baseball’s intent, that by assembling a coaching staff and group of ballplayers which will play together in the summers of 1995 and 1996, the team will be able to develop the continuity and cohesiveness essential to winning in the Olympics.
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