Sunday, July 17, 2005

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The international relations of baseball

I have an essay in today's edition of Newsday about the international relations of baseball -- in particular, what can be gleaned from the International Olympics Committee's decision to drop baseball from its roster of sports and Major League Baseball's decision to set up the World Baseball Classic.

The key paragraph:

In international-relations terms, baseball's exit from the Olympics would appear to symbolize the decline of America's "soft power" - a concept developed by Harvard professor and former assistant secretary of defense Joseph Nye to characterize a country's cultural appeal to the rest of the world. But before the Bush administration gets blamed for the decline of baseball, we should consider the possibility that the Olympic Games actually give America's greatest game a worse deal than the Classic.

Go check it out. My favorite part is the tagline: "Daniel W. Drezner is assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago and a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox."

Some background links: click here for one example of corruption in the International Olympics Committee. Here's a link to Gary Sheffield's comments to the New York Daily News; and here for evidence on the number of national baseball federations.

I should point out one sloppy construction in the piece. The article says, "the National Hockey League allowed its players to participate in the Olympics, and they trashed their rooms after they lost their last game." That charge should be limited to the American NHL players; my apologies to any and all Canadians.

posted by Dan on 07.17.05 at 09:49 AM


I'm not sure how serious your piece is meant to be, but before putting it all down to the international politics of baseball you should seriously consider that the IOC decided this on good sporting merits.

posted by: ab on 07.17.05 at 09:49 AM [permalink]

I haven't seen the specifics of the decision, but I doubt it much to do with objective sporting merits. I heard that the IOC made some ridiculous point that baseball wasn't played by enough countries--now if that standard were applied across the board we would see many more sports tossed out (Dan's link provides ample proof that baseball is alive and well in a majority of the globe). I had enough disinterest in the Olympics before this whole debacle (as well as contempt for the IOC), this was pretty much the nail in the coffin. The doping comment is equally as ridiculous--as if track and field hasn't been awash in doping scandal--please, its absolute hypocracy. I can't imagine how players from Latin America and East Asia feel about this--try telling them the sport doesn't have wide enough appeal. Softball got the rawest deal, given their major outlet was the Olympics. All in all its an embarassment.

posted by: bp32 on 07.17.05 at 09:49 AM [permalink]

One of the things I remember from the Olympic Games of my youth was the chance to watch sports I didn't ordinarily get to see very often.

The Summer Olympic Games today are too big even without baseball and softball. They are padded with invented sports (synchronized swimming), children's sports (women's gymanstics), and at least one junior-league type tournament (in soccer), and would be better off dropping all of them or at least restricting participation to adults.

Olympic sports should include sports played in significant parts of the world outside of the Olympics, yet in which an Olympic gold medal represents the pinnacle of achievement. Baseball being dropped probably does reflect an undesirably low level of American influence within the IOC, but it does baseball in this country no harm, and for the Summer Olympics is a step in the right direction. I feel worse about women's softball.

posted by: Zathras on 07.17.05 at 09:49 AM [permalink]

I've never understood why there wasn't a "Baseball World Championship" anyway.

posted by: Francis on 07.17.05 at 09:49 AM [permalink]

We will only be interested in a baseball world series if we win it consistently. Note that in the little league world series, attention dropped almost completely when Taiwan started to win year after year. American coaches said the Taiwanese were cheating with ringers. I say sour grapes. Let's see what happens when Cuba starts to beat us year after year.

posted by: DC Loser on 07.17.05 at 09:49 AM [permalink]

Well, there were several problems with baseball from the IOC point of view, but one of the big ones was that it required the building of lots of very expensive facilities that couldn't be easily re-used for anything else. Even they they're quite obscure globally, sports like badminton, tae-kwon-do, graeco-roman wrestling etc are all played in the same indoor arenas as basketball, gymnastics, volleyball etc, and so are cheap and easy to stage. Baseball and softball require oddly shaped outdoor arenas that are useless as soon as the Games are finished in countries like Greece, China and Britain where baseball isn't much played.

posted by: Martin Adamson on 07.17.05 at 09:49 AM [permalink]

I'm pretty sure that one of the replacement sports will be rugby.

Does this mean that the soft power is shifting from America to a Europen/Australasian/South African axis, with support from willing coalition members in Argentina, Fiji and Samoa?

posted by: Andy on 07.17.05 at 09:49 AM [permalink]

Oh well, at least they still have ping pong and team synchronized swimming, which have captivated the world's sporting audiences for decades.

Just another reason to avoid the freaking olympics. What a joke.

posted by: Don Mynack on 07.17.05 at 09:49 AM [permalink]

If the analogy holds up, what's the signifance of the crumbling of the Evil Empire, err, Yankees?

I suggest as a follow-up piece on analogizing the Cold War with the BoSox and Yankees.

posted by: Chris on 07.17.05 at 09:49 AM [permalink]

Arguing that baseball should be an Olympic sport is like arguing that cricket should, or American Football -- there just isn't the multi-national interest.

posted by: Nigel Pond on 07.17.05 at 09:49 AM [permalink]

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