#Hot Corner

Baseball strikes out with Olympic committee

Ben Sheets - Kevin C. Cox

If your last name begins with the letters A through F, you've already attended government-mandated Olympic Awareness Camp, and thus, you've heard the news: Baseball will not be returning to the Olympic Games, at least not anytime soon ...

[Baseball and softball] joined forces as the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) to bid against wrestling and squash for the one available berth on the Olympic programme for the 2020 and 2024 Games. But they missed out after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members voted overwhelming [sic] to reinstate wrestling.

And so our favorite pastime joins Korfball and hot air ballooning in the dustbin of defunct Olympic sports. "The first modern hot air balloon," according to Wikipedia, "was designed and built in 1960 by Ed Yost." Alas, it's not Eddie "Walking Man" Yost.

Anyway, all this Olympics talk reminded me of Bill James' essay (subscription only) on the 2008 Summer Olympics, which, to his great surprise, he loved. Why the surprise? Because Bill always despised the politics and corruption of "the Olympic Movement," and especially longtime IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch:

Samaranch, for those of you who weren’t paying attention for a half-century or so, is a Spanish con artist who somehow weaseled his way into a position as the permanent head of the International Olympic Committee. He insisted on being addressed as "Your Excellency," went everywhere in private jets and chauffeured limousines, and stayed only in Presidential suites. His private suite in Lausanne, Switzerland was rented for him, with Olympic funds, for $500,000 a year. It was a drop in the bucket to the full cost of sustaining Samaranch in the opulence to which he was accustomed.

Samaranch staffed every Olympic committee with cronies, relatives, toadies and sycophants who engaged in obvious and more or less open bribery and corruption. Discovering that many cities wanted desperately to host the Olympic games, Samaranch’s lackeys competed to see who could extort the most money from potential host cities in exchange for their votes. Everything was for sale in Samaranch’s fiefdom—judging positions, press credentials, administrative staff accommodations.

The athletes, meanwhile, were supposed to be amateurs! While stuffing his own pockets with the sales of everything material and symbolic, Samaranch stubbornly insisted that the athletes needed to be pure amateurs uncorrupted by lucre, or even endorsements. It seems fantastic, in retrospect, that the world put up with this as long as it did. Jim McKay would wax poetic about this wonderful theater of pure sportsmanship, and somehow we were not supposed to notice that the whole show was being orchestrated by Lex Luthor. Maybe it was just me, but I couldn’t help noticing.

He has some choice words for McKay, too.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed watching Ben Sheets shut out Cuba for the gold medal in 2000, I'm not too upset about baseball's rejection by the IOC. Let them have their Synchronized Diving and Mixed Pairs Artistic Bouncy Castle. We've got the World Baseball Classic, after all, and a World Series almost every October.

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