Baseball doesn’t fit Olympic mold


Terry Tiffee speaks the truth. The Olympics are a good experience for minor league baseball players, one that presents an elevated level of intensity from a midseason trip to Sacramento or Salt Lake City or fill-in-your-town-of-choice-here.

Everything the 51s player said here Friday night is valid.

So is this: Baseball doesn’t make sense in the current Olympics model.

The U.S. team won’t depart with gold, which ranks on the surprise meter alongside the fact China had a large pool from which to recruit its Olympic volunteers. Cuba put a 10-2 whipping on the Americans at Wukesong Stadium, sending them to the bronze medal game, where the U.S. beat Japan, 8-4.

This is the last time we will see baseball around an Olympic venue for some time and perhaps ever, the sport joining softball as those handed walking papers by the International Olympic Committee following these Games.

You can’t compare the two. Softball, lacking for competitive international teams, still sends its best players to an Olympics and owns the argument that removing women’s sports is an ignorant road to travel in 2008.

But this is what we get now from baseball every four years: Most teams that are nowhere near representative of the top players from their countries playing in venues that host nations would prefer not to build and then tear down once the final out is made.

Baseball has no legacy for Greece or China or London, nor for Madrid or Rio de Janeiro should one of those 2016 finalists receive the Games. China did everything big here, so it was no shock that two stadiums and a practice field were built to accommodate baseball.

All three structures soon will be mounds of dust. Enter a new, sprawling shopping mall.

Costs for construction and ballpark operations are important issues, but just as significant when deciding baseball’s Olympics presence is the ability of each roster. Other than Cuba and South Korea, who meet for the gold today, nothing is extraordinary about any team here.

It’s definitely true for the Americans, whose best pitcher is a collegian (San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg). But major league teams are more diverse than any professional sport except soccer, and any move to allow their players the Olympics experience would improve the quality of those competing overnight.

It’s just not going to happen.

The NBA sends its players because the Games fall during the league’s offseason, but don’t for a second think Kobe and LeBron and Carmelo would be here preparing for the gold medal game against Spain on Sunday if it meant their league had to cease playing for two weeks while its stars chased Olympic glory.

The NHL stops its season for the Winter Games, but that’s because it remains a league in need of such marketing opportunity. If it meant more coverage and television cameras aimed in its direction, hockey probably would postpone games and order its players to wear dresses while dancing on the steps of city hall in their respective cities.

Not in baseball, and definitely not since the birth of the World Baseball Classic in 2006. Major League Baseball wanted nothing to do with the Beijing Games, and you could tell by the number of top minor league prospects it protected from making the trip.

"The World Baseball Classic gives major leaguers that Olympics taste," said Tiffee, who was joined on the U.S. team by 51s pitcher Mike Koplove. "Major league teams aren’t going to send their guys here at this time of year. You can’t do it. But it’s something we can take with us the rest of our lives. It has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Baseball, like softball and other hopefuls, will learn its long-term Olympics fate in October 2009. That’s when the IOC announces which two sports it will add for 2016. Golf wants in. So does karate, rugby, squash and roller sports.

As it stands now, when only a few teams can be considered anywhere near major league quality, baseball’s argument for returning to the five-ring party doesn’t hold up.

If the judge of a sport’s worth is how much it is missed once departed, I have a feeling there won’t be many tears shed for baseball in London four years from now.

"There is BMX in the Olympics," U.S. catcher Lou Marson said. "I definitely think there should be baseball."

Yeah, but there’s a difference: BMX didn’t send Triple-A riders.

Ed Graney can be reached at 383-4618 or

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