SINGAPORE - 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.
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.”
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