Secret ballot eliminates baseball, softball
NEW YORK -- The International Olympic Committee delivered a shocking message to baseball and softball on Friday: Yer out!
The two sports were kicked out of the Olympics, unwanted by international sports officials who felt they were too American for the world sports stage.
The decision, made during a secret vote in Singapore, is effective for the 2012 London Games, meaning the two sports will have a final fling at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The sports, the first eliminated since polo in 1936, are eligible to reapply for the 2016 Games.
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U.S. women won all three gold medals since softball joined the Olympics, at the 1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Games. American pitcher Lisa Fernandez, a three-time gold medalist, blamed the decision on IOC president Jacques Rogge.
"Rogge has basically conspired against the sports to get them removed. We had done our job as a sport world wide to show we belong," she said. "I feel one person, the president of the IOC, a person from Europe, has taken it upon himself to ruin the lives of millions, actually billions of women."
Crystl Bustos, who hit a record five homers during the 2004 Olympics, said the one-sidedness of the softball tournament should not have been used as a factor. The Americans outscored opponents 51-1.
"If that did play a role in the decision, then that's pretty pathetic," she said. "I don't mean to cut anybody down, but it's supposed to be the best of the best, and if you get knocked for your excellence, then that's just not right."
Two-time gold medal-winning infielder Dot Richardson said the Olympic dream "was ripped away from the 126 countries that play the sport of softball, that just vanished."
"I've always seen in athletics an anti-American sentiment throughout the world. Most of it is through jealousy or envy," she said. "I just don't know if this had anything to do with that."
Jennie Finch, the U.S. team's star who pitched two shutouts in Athens, was shocked by the news.
"It's devastating and heartbreaking, all combined," she said. "Especially because the sport's at an all-time high right now. I know it's devastating for the young girls.
"We're going to do all we can to get the sport back for 2016."
Baseball was a demonstration sport at the 1984 Los Angeles Games and 1988 Seoul Games and became a medal sport in 1992 at Barcelona, where Cuba won the gold. The Cubans beat Japan in the 1996 final at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where the 32 games had an average attendance of 28,749.
While professionals were first allowed to participate in 2000, major league baseball didn't allow players on 40-man major league rosters to go. The U.S. team won the gold, led by former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda and current Milwaukee pitcher Ben Sheets, but the Americans didn't even qualify for the Athens Games, eliminated with a 2-1 loss to Mexico in a qualifier.
"I think they've made a big, big mistake," Lasorda said. "Baseball is played by all countries now, and softball, too. I think that's really going to hurt the Olympics."
Cuba won in Athens for its third gold medal in four tries.
"That's like the World Series for people here," Chicago White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras, who played for Cuba in the 2000 Olympics, said through a translator. "Not having the Olympics will be a big hit in Cuba and for the fans in Cuba."
But for U.S. baseball players, the Olympics were less important.
"There isn't any player growing up thinking they want to play in the Olympics," said Sheets, who won a gold medal in 2000. "That was one of my greatest moments, but it has nothing to do with the big leagues."
Each of the 28 existing sports was put to a secret vote by the IOC, and baseball and softball were the only two that failed to receive a majority. The IOC then rejected adding squash and karate, which failed to get the necessary two-thirds approval.
IOC officials were unhappy about the absence of major leaguers. The NBA has sent its best players since 1992 and the NHL stopped its season for 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics.
"The lack of the MLB players -- I think people have looked and said, `Well, all right, if there's to be a change, that seems to be the logic of it,"' British IOC member Craig Reedie said.
Cuban Baseball Federation president Carlos Rodriguez took a similar view.
"Those who bear most of the blame are the owners of the professional leagues who refuse to free up their ballplayers to compete," he said.
The drug-testing provisions of major league baseball's collective bargaining agreement, which are more lax than World Anti-Doping Agency rules, were cited as a factor by Australian IOC member John Coates.
"Problems with doping in U.S. baseball probably cost the sport dearly," Coates said.
Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players' Association, said the IOC's decision "won't affect baseball very much one way or another."
"You can't shut down major league baseball, you just can't do it and nobody can reasonably expect us to," he said. "Baseball will go on just fine. It's never depended in any way, shape or form even slightly on the Olympics."
San Diego Padres chief executive officer Sandy Alderson, until April an executive vice president in the major league commissioner's officer, traveled to Singapore this week and was surprised by the decision.
Major league baseball and the players' association plan to start their own 16-nation tournament, the World Baseball Classic, next March and have a launch announcement scheduled for Monday in suburban Detroit.
"Since 1990, the number of national baseball federations has grown from 60 to 122," said Bob DuPuy, major league baseball's chief operating officer. "By deleting baseball from its Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee has made a mistake that will adversely affect millions of sports fans worldwide."
San Francisco Giants outfielder Michael Tucker, a 1992 Olympian, thought the IOC might restore the sports for 2016.
"It's just a matter of what's popular right now," he said. "You might see poker on there."
Dominican Baseball Federation president Hector Pereyra and Mexican Olympic Committee president Felipe Munoz intend to work toward baseball's restoration.
"This is the moment to start the race to return to the Olympic stage in 2016," Pereyra said.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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