Baseball In The Olympics: Tokyo 2020
With baseball returning to the Olympics in Tokyo 2020 for the first time in over a decade, and our very own team USA walking away with the silver medal after losing in the finals to the tournament favorite; Japan, we thought it might be nice to look into baseball’s historic past in the Olympics, as well as how team USA has faired throughout the years.
A Storied Past; Baseball in the Olympics
Baseball was not officially recognized as an Olympic sport until the 1992 Summer Olympics. However, prior to this it was played as a demonstration sport in seven different Olympics, the most of any sport in Olympic history. The first five of these Olympic demonstrations consisted of just one single game, followed by a tournament format in 1984 and 1988. On October 13, 1986, the International Olympic Committee announced baseball as an official sport for the 1992 Summer Olympics.
Highs, Lows, and Restrictions for USA Baseball
The Cuban team came into the 1992 Olympics on the back of a 62-1 record in international competition since 1986 and easily swept the competition to win gold. Team USA won their first medal (bronze) in 1996 with Cuba easily taking the gold medal once again. Many people believe that a major reason for the Cuban team’s dominance in this time and the lack thereof for Team USA was the fact that the Olympics did not allow professional players to compete in Olympic baseball until the year 2000. While other countries had to rely on amateur players, the Cuban team could use their most experienced veterans, who were listed as amateurs because they nominally held jobs.
In the 2000 Summer Olympics, Team USA finally defeated Cuba in the final and brought home the gold medal. However, while professional players were now allowed to take part in the Olympics, the MLB refused to release it’s players to the Olympics in 2000, 2004, and 2008. Because of this fact, Team USA could only use minor league players and were not able to qualify for the Olympics in 2004, while Cuba went on to win their third gold medal. Team USA did earn one more medal (bronze) in 2008, before baseball was removed from the Olympics. In 2005, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to remove baseball from the 2012 Summer Olympics, the first sport to be removed from the Olympics since polo in 1936. One of the reasons the IOC stated for removing baseball was the lack of professional players, in addition to problems with performance enhancing drugs and the cost of having to build baseball stadiums.
Team USA; Tokyo 2021
This year’s Team USA qualified for the Olympics by winning the eight-team Americas Qualifying Event in June of 2021. That being said, baseball fans would have been quite surprised when they saw the line-up for Tokyo 2021. To quote one ESPN writer, this year’s Team USA is a team of “has-beens and not-yets, aiming for gold.” Out of the 24 players on the team, only four were former MLB all-stars, one of whom (Scott Kazmir) is 37 years old and was one year into retirement when he decided to come back and go for gold with Team USA. He was also not the only character on this roster. Eddy Alvarez is a former silver medalist in the 5000 meter relay for speed-skating, which he won in the 2014 Sochi Games. The rest of the players on this roster were all minor-league, although quite a few had at least been in communication with some MLB teams. Nonetheless, despite a mix of old talent, Olympic medalists, and young-guns on the up and up, Team USA managed to make it all the way to the finals and walk away with a silver medal, bringing our total to 4 medals (1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze) in 5 Olympic appearances. For a bunch of “has-beens and not-yets,” our boys surpassed expectations and can now fly home with their heads held high and medals on their chests.