Good riddance, baseball

Great sport, but the Olympics are right to give it the boot. Tennis should go too. But not softball.

Published August 13, 2008 10:05PM (EDT)

I love baseball. I love the Olympics. Baseball's getting kicked out of the Olympics. I'm glad.

Softball, which I don't love, is also getting kicked out. I'm sad about that. Life's complicated.

As much as I enjoy the chance to watch the mostly non-elite minor-league prospects who make up the U.S. team -- seriously; I'm nerdy like that -- I agree with the International Olympic Committee's decision to drop the sport after Beijing.

Because the U.S. major leagues rightly refuse to interrupt their schedule to allow players to go the Olympics, Olympic baseball is missing most of the world's best players. Big-league teams are reluctant to let their top minor-leaguers go to the Olympics, so the games don't even really work as a treat for prospect hounds. The U.S. team features a few top guys, such as Matt LaPorta and Trevor Cahill, but it's dominated by Quadruple-A types like Nate Schierholtz and Jayson Nix.

Baseball also requires a specialized stadium that in most cases becomes a white elephant the day after the last game because -- and this is another good reason -- there are large swathes of the world where baseball doesn't matter. Europe is one of those, and the Olympics have a European sensibility.

The baseball tournament began Wednesday, and it's an eyesore on TV. There's a giant, NHL-style safety screen behind home plate that stretches all the way around to the bases. It appears to be a chain-link fence painted black. For some reason, whoever's supplying the pictures insists on using a camera behind the plate, which in U.S. ballparks is above the backstop and screen, but in Beijing's park is looking through the chain-link fence.

It looks like your TV's broken. It's terrible. Not to get all technical for the TV people but: Move your camera!

Good riddance, baseball. You won't be missed. Major League Baseball runs its own quadrennial international tournament now, the World Baseball Classic, which does attract the world's best players.

Three years ago Sports Illustrated took a poll of its readers, asking what sports should be eliminated from the Olympics. S.I.'s a pretty baseball-centric mag. The girly synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics were 1-2, as you might expect. Baseball was third. Daylight fourth.

Take tennis with you when you go, baseball. Tennis does bring the best players in the world to town, but so does Masters Series Hamburg. Olympics tennis looks like just another tournament. A pretty big one. The stars do show. But the Olympics are supposed to be special.

NBA or NHL stars get sorted out into national teams for the Olympics, so you get to see LeBron James and Kobe Bryant play together, Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut play apart. There's nothing particularly Olympian about Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal, should they meet for the gold medal, for the fifth time this year.

Bringing tennis into the Olympics was a pretty blatant attempt to cash in on a big-money sport, as was baseball. Basketball's a big-money sport too, of course, but it was an Olympic sport before it was a big-money sport. A requirement for new Olympic sports should be that, upon the sport's entry to the games, the Olympic tournament would immediately become its pinnacle.

That would be true for squash, a good candidate these days. It's not true for baseball or tennis.

Unfortunately, it's true for softball, which is being tossed out with baseball. It's collateral damage. I'm not a big fan of softball -- I think it's a low-scoring bowdlerization of baseball -- but the best players show up and the Olympics are the pinnacle. Except for the ballpark thing, a problem that seems solvable with a smaller, temporary stadium, softball is everything you'd want in an Olympic sport.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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