We are reader supported. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Also, as an Amazon affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
Baseball has been very popular in the United States for well over a century, and even elsewhere in the world for at least the past half-century or so. Why, then, is baseball not always included as part of the medals competition at the Olympics?
After the Tokyo games in 2021, baseball will not be an Olympic sport officially. Baseball has been part of the Olympic Games periodically dating as far back as 1904, but was not an official competition for medals until 1992 to 2012. Baseball was added again in 2021, but the sport’s future in the global sporting event is uncertain.
Baseball will not return to Olympic competition until 2028 at the soonest, and that’s only if the organizing committee for the Los Angeles Games requests it and the Olympic governing body approves it.
Welcome to the peculiar story of baseball and the Olympic Games.
Baseball made a pretty decent return to the Olympics starting in 1984 and 1988, when after a 20-year absence made its comeback, as a “demonstration” sport for consecutive Olympiads.
Then it was a full-fledged Olympic sport from 1992 through the 2012 Games. After that, the people who run the Olympics chose not to keep baseball in the games because Major League Baseball refused to allow the top players to represent the United States in the event.
The Olympics are often referred to as the Summer Games (which started probably with the introduction of the Winter Olympics in 1924); and the MLB season runs through the entire summer every year.
So what we originally saw as U.S. Olympic baseball team members were actually the best college and amateur players available ~ much like hockey until recent years. In the 1980s there was more of a delineation between amateur and professional athletes which does not quite exist today.
Frustrated with dealing with MLB owners and its players union, the Olympic Committee voted to eliminate baseball (and fastpitch softball) after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Then baseball resurfaced as an Olympic sport in 2021, still without active Major League players but at least now featuring minor league baseball players on Team USA.
Baseball’s relationship with the Olympics actually began right after the Games were reintroduced, after hundreds of years of absence from the event’s Greek roots. The Modern Olympic games are known to have returned with the 1896 games in Athens, Greece.
Not long after, baseball unofficially debuted in the Olympics, in 1904 in St. Louis. It was not until the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, that baseball was officially added, as a demonstration sport.
From then until the 1980s, the sport of baseball made only periodic appearances in the Olympic Games:
- 1904, St. Louis, unofficial games
- 1912, Stockholm, Sweden, demonstration sport
- 1920, Paris, where an American team topped a team from France, 5-0, in a 4-inning exhibition.
- 1936, Berlin, 2 teams from the United States played against one another before up to 100,000 people in an exhibition.
- 1952, Helsinki, Finland, where a modified version called “Finnish baseball” was played by 2 teams from Finland in an exhibition.
- 1956, Melbourne, Australia, single exhibition game between the host country and the United States.
- 1964, Tokyo, Japan, single exhibition game between the host country and the United States.
It then would be 20 years before the sport resurfaced, in Los Angeles, as an exhibition sport in 1984, where a U.S. team featuring Barry Larkin, Will Clark, and Mark McGwire went to the final game before losing to Japan.
Baseball again was an exhibition sport in 1988 (when this time the U.S. squad topped Japan in the final), before officially, finally becoming a bonafide Olympic sport in the 1992 games in Barcelona, Spain.
Baseball in the Olympics continued with decent success through 2008, after which as outlined above baseball and softball were dropped as official Olympic sports.
Baseball was not revived at the Olympics until 2021, in Tokyo (Games that were postponed a year due to the pandemic). Baseball was not included in the lineup for the 2024 games in Paris.
As of 2022, baseball is not considered a permanent sport (e.g. competition for medals) of the Olympic programme.
Remember, baseball stopped as a permanent sport with the 2008 Olympics. From there, the organizations that govern baseball and softball internationally worked to gain favor with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for reinstatement.
Finally, in 2016, IOC policies were changed in a modernization movement. The changes included shifting a focus of the Games, away from being only “sport-based,” to a more “event-based” happening.
Part of these changes include allowing organizing committees from host countries to propose addition of sports competitions aside from the regular core sporting events.
So basically what happened is baseball waited for a country that loves baseball to host the Olympics. Hence, baseball in Tokyo in 2021.
However, for the 2024 Olympics, the Paris organizing committee did not make such a request, because the sport is just not popular in that country and therefore it would be costly to build the needed fields and stadiums.
While the programme for the 2028 Olympics is not yet finalized, it is widely expected that baseball will be added to the Games in Los Angeles, because of its popularity in the United States.
It remains to be seen whether baseball officially will be on the programme for the 2028 Olympics ~ as well as for the Games in 2032 in Brisbane, Australia, or 2036 in Nusantara, Indonesia. Baseball is decently popular in Australia ~ current relief pitching star Liam Hendricks is from the continent country, as well as solid relievers like Graeme Lloyd and Grant Balfour in the past.
However, baseball is not popular in Indonesia.
The Paris Organizing Committee did not ask the IOC to include baseball or softball in the 2024 Olympics because those sports are not popular in the European nation.
With this new “host picks” policy, it is important to make note of the fact that host organizing committees must raise funds and establish a budget to ensure facilities are available or constructed to host all sports on the programme.
The Paris committee set a budget of 1.5 billion euros for the entire Games, and because it was less than expected, the number of athletes that could be hosted was reduced from 11,091 to 10,500.
This made it even more difficult for French officials to justify adding baseball to their games, since the sport is not popular there so baseball (and softball) diamonds and stadiums do not exist.
Around the time the debate over baseball in the Olympics was developing, other organizations began discussions about establishing a true world baseball championship tournament, much like soccer has with the World Cup.
The result was the World Baseball Classic, which began as a tournament every 3 years but since was changed to mimic the Olympics and the 4-year gap between contests.
To address the age-old question of whether the very best players could participate, it was agreed that the WBC be staged during a time of year before the MLB season begins. That is, prior to the end of March.
For many people, this makes the WBC contests more interesting than baseball in the Olympics, where top players still can’t play if they are active on MLB rosters.
For a brief period (2006 to 2008), the WBC coexisted with Olympic baseball competition. Not so for the Baseball Classic events through 2017.
The next WBC is set for 2023, according to terms in the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) approved by MLB players with clubs in early 2022.
A World Baseball Classic had been scheduled for 2021, but was canceled due to the pandemic.
There is more than a single reason why baseball is not a permanent sport on the Olympic programme. The fact that summer Olympics conflict with the MLB’s summer season is a major one.
This fact does not stop all major leagues around the world from sending players to the Olympics. On the contrary, for the 2021 summer Olympics in Tokyo, the Japanese major leagues suspended its season so its players could participate in the olympiad hosted on their own island.
However, to date, the MLB club owners and players union has not conceded to interrupt its regular-season play to let players compete in the Olympics.
Another reason baseball has not been adopted permanently, at least according to some statements by IOC officials, is universality. That is, all the best players must participate, and all nations must agree to the global anti-doping standards.
Other International Baseball Competitions
Over the years there have been several attempts to organize competitions to pit nations against each other in attempts to see who is best in the world at that time.
There have been numerous tours by Major League Baseball players of other nations, notably in Japan by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Most featured only exhibition games, and not formalized play among several teams.
One global competition that lasted well into recent years was the Baseball World Cup. The U.S. team first participated in 1938, and the event lasted so long it actually overlapped for a period with the World Baseball Classic.
Finally, following the 2011 Baseball World Cup tourney, the event was discontinued with consideration of the expansion of the WBC tournament. Cuba won the most Baseball World Cup titles.
Previously, the United States competed in the Pan American Games (starting in 1951), and the World Intercontinental Cup (beginning 1973). (See below).
Globally, baseball for the Olympics is governed by the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC).
Gold Medal: 2000
Silver Medal: 2020
(Note: Winner of 1988 demonstration competition; runner-up of 1984 demonstration competition)
World Champion: 2017
1st Place: 1973, 1974, 2007, 2009
1st Place: 1975, 1981
1st Place: 1967
Question: Prior to baseball and softball being dropped from the Olympics after 2008, had other sports been dropped?
Answer: Only polo, dropped from the 1936 Olympics.
Q.: Who won the gold medal in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics?
A.: Japan, once again over the United States which took the silver medal.
Q.: Why doesn’t the United States dominate international baseball play?
A.: Unlike other team games, short baseball competitions like Olympic and WBC tournaments can be dominated by a single star pitcher, or, especially, several on a club. This happens too in the MLB playoffs, when a pitcher like Bret Saberwhagen or Orel Hershiser gets hot at just the right time. Additionally, baseball is a game of streaks and momentum. Hitting a baseball is the single most difficult action in all of sports to perform, and sometimes hitters just don’t produce during the relatively short period of time these tournaments encompass.