Baseball is one of the oldest and most established sports in the world. It has been a major sport in the US since the 1800s, and baseball players from all over the globe try to make in MLB. While it is one of the most popular sports in the world, it rarely ever features at the Olympic, the festival of sport. This is a history of baseball at the Olympics, and how it’s back on the menu for the 2020 Summer Games.
The national pastime
Baseball became hugely popular in America, and mainly the New York area, in the mid-1800s. The craze really took off, and after a few years, journalists were calling it America’s favorite pastime. Baseball was here to stay, and it only ever got more popular since its introduction. Legendary players like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Willie Mays all helped the sport grow as we moved into the 20th century.
It was as popular as it could ever have been during the early years and so it was time to debut at the Summer Olympics. The only thing left to do was to make it an Olympic sport officially. That was not easy, and over 100 years after it was popularized in the States, baseball finally became an Olympic sport.
The exhibition years
Baseball was growing in popularity all the time, and in 1904 the sport had its unofficial debut at the Olympics. It was an exhibition, and no medals were handed out, but this was a way to show the world how baseball would look alongside other great sports. It wasn’t the exciting spectacle baseball fans might have hoped for, and they had to wait eight more years before it returned to the Summer Games.
An exhibition between USA and Sweden occurred at the 1912 games, but again it seemed fans were not that into it. The two World Wars didn’t help baseball’s cause, but by the 1950s people were more open to seeing it at the Summer Games. Further exhibition games were held at the 1952, 1956, and 1964 Olympics.
Once again the exhibitions were not enough to convince the Olympic board that baseball should be included. Things finally took a positive turn when several demonstration games at the Olympics in the ‘80s led to a rethink. Baseball had finally been able to impress the Olympic organizers that it was ready to officially be a part of the Summer Games and in 1992 it made its debut.
Finally, after more than 100 years, baseball had the chance to show the world it belonged with the other major sports. Basketball had long been in the Olympics so it felt like baseball would eventually make it there. The United States might have been the early favorites for the gold medal, considering how many Americans play in MLB, but they didn’t win it.
As Spain was hosting the games, their team automatically qualified but because Spain isn’t that well known as a baseball playing nation, they finished bottom of the pile. Cuba were the ones to watch alongside Japan and Chinese Taipei. The heats were dominated by the four favorites, and they played out the semifinals, with the USA losing to Chinese Taipei and Japan losing to Cuba.
The Cuban team finished the tournament without suffering defeat, beating Chinese Taipei in the final by 11 runs to 1.
Atlanta and Sydney
Following the success of baseball’s inaugural inclusion at the Olympic Games, it was featured at the next four Summer Games. In 1996 the USA was hosting the Olympics in Atlanta, and the home support would have hoped that playing on familiar ground would have lifted the States to victory.
Once again though it was the Cuban team who came away with the gold, proving that more players from Cuba belonged in Major League Baseball. It wasn’t all bad for Team USA though, and they did leave the Olympics in 1996 with a bronze medal, as Japan took silver. Then the Games went on to Sydney Australia in 2000, and the host nation was competing for the second time.
Australia didn’t set the world alight on the baseball diamond, but Team USA finally managed to overcome the Cuban strength to take the gold. The US defeated their rivals 4-0 in the final, finally becoming masters at their own national pastime.
Athens and Beijing
Baseball was now making its fourth and fifth consecutive appearances at the Summer Games in 2004 and 2008. Australian baseball had come on leaps and bounds since its first appearance, and they managed to end the 2004 Olympics in silver medal position. The US opted not to send a baseball team to the Athens Games, so it was left to Cuba to be the pre-competition favorite.
They made the final and once again took gold. In Beijing, the United States were back in contention but could only take the bronze medal. A surprise team won gold as South Korea beat the Cubans in the final game of the tournament.
After the 2008 Olympics baseball was not around, but that will all change in 2020 when Tokyo welcomes the sport back. Baseball has had an on-again-off-again relationship with the Olympics, and if 2020 can prove to be as exciting as some events in the past, it might finally stick around for good.