King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Olympics to baseball: Drop dead. Softball goes too. The IOC made the right call. Plus: Perfect games are different for girls.


Salon Staff
July 8, 2005 7:56PM (UTC)

It looks like I'm not the only one who's not excited about baseball these days.

The International Olympic Committee dropped the Great American Game and its bowdlerized cousin, softball, Friday in the same Singapore meetings that awarded the 2012 Games to London. The sports will be played in Beijing in 2008, but then no more.

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It's the first time since 1936 that the Olympics have dropped a sport. Polo got the ax then.

That was a good move and so is this. Baseball just never felt like an Olympic sport. Tommy Lasorda can protest all he wants. "Baseball is played by all countries now, and softball, too," he said. "I think that's really going to hurt the Olympics."

But he's wrong. Baseball isn't played by all countries, and it's played on a high level by very few. Those few send most of their best players to the North American major leagues, which renders them unable to play in the Olympics, a fact not lost on the IOC, not to mention on American baseball fans, who have joined most of the rest of the world over the years in mostly giving Olympic baseball a pass.

Except for the part about the best players not going to the Olympics, the same is true of softball. The total American domination of Olympic softball says a lot about the international state of the game.

Baseball and softball are also sports that require their own unique stadium, which is expensive to build and maintain and becomes a white elephant the minute the Games are over unless they're in the Americas or Asia. And maybe even then, hello Montreal.

Of course, another motivation for the IOC dinging baseball and softball could be good old-fashioned anti-Americanism. That certainly can't be discounted, and may have been the major motivating factor.

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So what. Let 'em think they're sticking it to us. They're really sticking it to Cuba, the defending champs, and to countries like Canada and Japan, which aren't big medal-winners but can field medal-contending baseball teams.

Americans tune in to the Olympics to watch the NBA stars, the track and field, gymnastics and swimming, and to be charmed by the odd sport that catches our fancy only when it's played under the Olympic rings -- beach volleyball, badminton, trap shooting, whitewater sports, whatever. It varies from Games to Games.

The IOC didn't just vote on baseball and softball. Every sport was in play, and those with a majority of yes votes were retained. The other 26 made the cut. The committee also voted on whether to include five new sports: golf, rugby, squash, karate and roller sports. Squash and karate made the final cut, but failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed to be adopted.

Squash and karate would both be worthy Olympic sports, not that the Olympics need more sports. They're what the Games should be all about. They're not big outside the Olympics and they lend themselves to non-athletic-powerhouse nations winning medals.

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If you want an international baseball tournament, the new World Cup figures to be a much better one than the Olympics have been. Too bad for Cuba and for the American women and their guaranteed softball medal, but the IOC did the right thing.

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It's different for girls [PERMALINK]

They had a nice little ceremony at the baseball Hall of Fame yesterday. A 12-year-old girl named Katie Brownell donated a jersey to the museum that had been worn by a pitcher who threw a perfect game, striking out every batter without reaching a three-ball count.

It was her jersey. The only girl in her Oakfield, N.Y., Little League threw the perfect perfecto in May, back when she was a mere 11. As far as Little League International can tell, she's the first girl to do it. She also may be the youngest person ever to have an item enshrined at Cooperstown.

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She had to be talked into it. "She's like, 'No, I'm keeping my jersey,'" her mother, Denise Bischoff, told the Associated Press about Katie's reaction to the Hall's request.

At the ceremony Katie got to sit next to an accountant from Hoboken, N.J. That may not sound like such a great thing to you and probably wasn't for Katie but Maria Pepe paved the way for Katie Brownell and any other girl who wants to play Little League ball.

She played a few games for her local Little League, but was banned after parents complained and Little League threatened to pull the league's charter if she were allowed to continue. Her family went to court and won a victory that came to late for Pepe, who was a teenager by that time, too old to play Little League ball.

Pepe's brief Little League career started and ended in 1971, which happened to be my first year of Little League. Three thousand miles away and not a big news consumer, I was unaware of her story, though if someone had brought up the idea of girls playing Little League I'd have probably thought the idea absurd.

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By my last season, though, four years later, when there were girls scattered on various rosters in the league, the idea didn't even rate a shoulder shrug. Who was I, with my anemic batting average, iron glove and Luzinski-like foot speed, to tell girls they couldn't play?

Even by that point, it seemed like a long time ago that girls hadn't been allowed to play. Two years is a long time when you're 11, after all. It's hard to imagine now a bunch of grown-ups getting together and forbidding a neighborhood kid who just wants to play ball from doing so. I'm picturing the citizens of Hoboken marching around with lit torches like in some "Frankenstein" flick.

But it wasn't that long ago. Maria Pepe is only 45. Still, it's long enough, three decades, that it should be history we only read about instead of still living. It's not.

Little League International says it has 2.1 million baseball players and 400,000 softball players. Boys and girls can both play either and the organization doesn't keep track of how many boys and girls are in each. But it says here it's a good guess that 2.1 million and 400,000 is roughly the boy-girl split.

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According to Bischoff, there were some ruffled feathers around town when Katie got so much attention for her perfect game. The thinking seemed to be, Why should this girl get fawned over for doing something that boys do fairly frequently?

And the answer is that she shouldn't. It's a rotten thing that a girl throwing a perfect game gets her jersey enshrined in Cooperstown, just as it would be rotten for a girl's 50-point basketball game to get her a ticket to the basketball Hall of Fame.

It should be the same as it is for boys -- great game, worthy of praise, definitely a pizza with the works. If the town's small enough that such a feat makes the sports briefs in the local paper we'll clip it out and save it for that scrapbook we're planning to make someday.

Anybody claiming that a girl shouldn't get so much attention for sporting accomplishments that are commonplace for boys should shut up and get to work making them commonplace for girls.

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Previous column: Devoted fandom

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