Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Greek story -- again

This time from Baseball America

Olympic Baseball "Euro-centric"?

Baseball America thinks the Olympic baseball tournament is "Euro-Centric". With three European teams competing-- Italy, the Netherlands, and the hosts, Greece, who qualify automatically -- I guess this is true:

“What’s needed is for IBAF (the International Baseball Federation) to have a better understanding of how it can sell international baseball, which is very unique,” said Baseball Canada national team director Greg Hamilton, whose nation will make its first trip to an Olympic diamond. “International baseball is a tremendously worthy cause. But to sell it, it would really help to have the best teams to be in the best tournaments.

“There needs to be an environment that gives the best teams a fair opportunity to earn a spot in the Olympics. Also, the notion that Europe should have equity with the Americas and Asia in terms of the number of teams it gets in the Olympics doesn’t make sense.”

The problem is that European parity makes perfect sense for a global tournament. If Europe doesn't have parity, is is more difficult to justify having an Olympic baseball tournament at all. If baseball is percieved as a minor, regional sport, it will be much easier for the IOC to remove it from the programme altogether.

Baseball facilities cause council spat

In Heidenheim, Germany, the extention of baseball facilities for the local baseball club is causing a political spat on the local council because of the project's spiraling costs -- local taxpayers' expense.

The Heidenheim Heideköpfe play in Germany's Bundesliga. According to the Heidenheimer Zeitung, they are are planning to build a new Baseball Center including an indoor batting cage and a clubhouse with showers, changing rooms, toilels, a first-aid facility, and an umpires' changing room. Financing it is the problem: The state government of Baden-Württemberg has already signaled its intention to pay €255,000 toward the project, because the Heidenheim club's facility is a regional centre for excellence, but an additional €168,400 are needed. The club intends to raise half from its sponsors, but wants the city council to raise its contribution to cover the rest. The existing part of the club's facilities has already cost €962,000 to build. This including €622,000 of the local council's money, and some on the council are balking at providing even more money to a minority sport.

The Christian Democrats support the increases, but the leader of the Social Democrat group on the council, opposes the plans to extend funding, which he sees as a using a "bottomless barrel" of public money. The additional funding, he said, was not justifiable in terms of the public interest and that of other athletes in the town.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Athens Olympic Blog

The Athens Olympic Games Blog has a solid baseball section. Check it out.

Olympic preview

NBC baseball commentator Matt Vasgersian provides a (rather poor) preview of the main contenders in the Olympic baseball tournament, from a very MLB-centric perspective. There's a summary of the story of the Greek (-American) team, but Netherlands or Italy are dismissed with scare quotes as "perennial baseball powers". Wouldn't it be funny if the Netherlands beat Cuba again, like they did during the Sydney Olympics? Vasgersian also fails to mention Chinese Taipai, whose inclusion as an Asian representative means that the 2000 bronze medalists, Korea, will not be participating.

Netherlands Olympian

Pitcher Ferenc Jongejan of the minor league Daytona Cubs will be a member of the Netherlands Olympic baseball team.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

B-pool Euro Championships

German TV station ARD has a profile of Germany pitcher Henning Fries, who is competing in the European Championships (B-pool) in Regensburg and Fürth. The teams completing for promotion to the A-pool are: Austria, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, Switzerland, and the hosts, Germany.

Cricket ground for baseball

New York's Jewish Week newspaper reveals and interesting factoid about the home of the minor league Staten Island Yankees, which ties in with the recent story in Britain's Guardian newspaper about the transition from cricket to baseball in 19th Century America:

The [Staten Island] Yanks’ home, Richmond County Bank Ballpark, just yards from the ferry terminal, was built on the old St. George Cricket Grounds, home for the original New York Metropolitans who called Staten Island their major league home in 1886 and ’87. The great Lipman Pike — the first Jewish major leaguer, who four times led the league in homers — went hitless in his one game for those primordial Mets.

Lasorda on Olympics and MLB World Cup

Former USA national team (and of course, LA Dodgers) manager Tommy Lasorda,is still disappointed about the USA's failure to qualify for the Olympics. As the Idaho Statesman reported:


Lasorda helped provide one of the signature moments of the 2000 Summer Olympics. He led the U.S. baseball team, a band of unknown minor-leaguers, to its first gold medal since baseball became an official Olympic sport.

This year, the Americans won't even be in Greece. Olympic baseball qualifying offers just two spots to "the Americas," which includes baseball-rich countries such as Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The U.S. went 3-0 in pool play with three straight shutouts, but lost to Mexico in the single-elimination portion. Here's what Lasorda, who wasn't involved with the qualifying team, had to say about the state of U.S. Olympic baseball:

What was your reaction when you found out the U.S. wouldn't get to defend its gold medal? "It hurt, it hurt a lot ... to believe our country is not in the Olympics in baseball."

A manager had not been selected for the Olympics. Did you have any interest in managing the Olympic team again this summer? "If they wanted me to, sure."

USA Baseball doesn't consider the qualifying system balanced because of the power in the Americas region. What do you think? "I don't know too much about the system. I know I'm really disappointed we're not in it."

What made your Olympic team so successful? "They were a bunch of young guys who had a lot of heart and wanted to do something for their country."

Would you manage again in 2008? "If I could, I would, without a doubt."

Major League Baseball is talking about a World Cup that would involve major-leaguers during the offseason. What do you think of that idea? "I think it's a great idea. It would be great for baseball, no doubt about it."

Coumnist: "Scrap Olympic baseball"

I don't agree with him, but Chicago Tribune sports columnist Philip Hersh makes the best argument yet for why why Olympic baseball should be scrapped. While the IOC won't risk offending individual sports federations by implementing this, Hersh thinks the following philopsophy should be applied to trimming the increasingly unwieldy Olympic program:

  1. No more sports, or events within sports, that appeal to or are dominated by only a few of the 202 nations coming to the 2004 Olympics.
  2. No more sports for which the Olympics aren't the most important competition.

Applying this principle, and throwing in a few sports he just considers "silly" or elitist, Hersh argues that baseball (along with softball, basketball, football, tennis, modern pentathlon, synchronized swimming, boxing, equestrian, Taekwondo, rowing, sailing, canoe-kayak, synchronized diving, and trampoline) ought to be scrapped.

He may have a point in insisting that the Olympics be the key tournament in a given event. However, Hersh fails to understand how important having a sport on the Olympic programme is to having its grassroots development funded in countries where it is a minority pursuit. Just because they won't win medals any time soon, just the potential of fielding an Olympic team in one of these obscure sports will mean that its develompent is taken seriously at the national level.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Czechs lose to Japan

Japan beat the Czech Republic, 6-0, at the World University Baseball Championship.

Cricket in America

Sneering commentaries about the relative merits of cricket over baseball are a staple of British sports writing. But I'm willing to tolerate a screed of this genre by Steven Wells in the Guardian, because it's a noble attempt at a historical explaination of why baseball emerged over cricket in the United States, despite cricket's propularity in the colonial era. Well's explaination is cricket's snobbishness is to blame thank:

American cricket shot itself through both kneecaps to avoid physical contact with the working classes. When the rest of the cricketing world embraced professionalism (cricketing code for "let the oiks have a go"), the American cricketing establishment remained stubbornly elitist. Many clubs abandoned the game altogether and turned to golf and tennis. This happened all over the USA. Except, bizarrely, in Philadelphia.

In England, this snobbery is still holding cricket back from drawing the levels of athletic professionalism and attendence that baseball enjoys in the United States.

Unfortunatly, amongst this interesting analysis, Wells spews the usual nonsense:

So why did baseball win out? Not because it's less boring. Trust me on this. The only time baseball gets even slightly exciting is when a batter actually manages to hit the ball. This happens so infrequently that you could read a book between home runs.

Note to all baseball-bashing cricketers: baseball types think cricket is boring for the opposite reason: because the batter rarely ever fails to hit the ball -- and isn't forced to run when he hits it poorly! Learn to appreciate the art of pitching and understand the limitations on the batter, and baseball becomes much more entertaining. Contrary to well-worn cricket snobbery, baseball is not a game of bashing the ball with brute force! Cricketers interested in going beyond mutual ignorance would be well advised to read the book by Kent (and occasional England) cricketer Ed Smith, Playing Hard Ball.

Baseball in Belfast

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports on efforts to build baseball diamond in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Orioles say Greeks have cash

The strange pre-Olympic odyssey of the Greek baseball team continues. The Baltimore Orioles, whose Greek-American owner Peter Angelos was instrumental in setting up the team, are now saying the Greek team does have all the money it needs.

O's spokesman Bill Stetka said: ''We were surprised to hear that. It's a non-issue. The flights have been arranged, and the cost already covered, through a cooperative effort by the Orioles, major league baseball, the Greek Federation and the family of Peter Angelos.''

Friday, July 23, 2004

More trouble for Greece

The BBC is reporting that the Greece's Olympic baseball team is stranded in America, where they are training in the runup to the Olympics. The president of the Greek Baseball Federation, Panos Mitsiopoulos, says that his team has recieved just one-third of the £200,000 it had been promised for Olympic preparations.

Greek coach threatens to quit

Greece's Olympic baseball team coach Dimitris Goussios threatened to resign yesterday when his 24-man roster, containing just two local players, was named. According to the Associated Press:

"I feel very bitter. . . . I've been used and I feel insulted as a person and as a coach," Dimitris Goussios said. "I'll fight this up until the last minute."


Goussios said he wasn't consulted in the team selection and argued that at least six homegrown players should have been chosen to guarantee that the sport has a future in Greece.

Seventeen teams play in a five-year-old Greek baseball league.

Greece, a nation of 11 million people, is relying heavily on those of Greek descent to find athletes in baseball and other sports that are largely unfamiliar in this country.

Male athletes granted summary citizenship for the Olympics have been made exempt from Greek military service.

"Of course the American-born players are of higher quality and we warmly welcome them as part of Greece . . . but this is unfair. Many of the local players have proven their value over the past year," Goussios said.

Goussios may not like the fact that there are only two locally-based players on his team, but he will have to contend with the fact that some of his North American ringers are bitter that there are any proper Greeks there are there at all. Back in June, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the American professionals were losing their patience with the five native-born Greek players who were then part of his roster. One of the American-born players, Cory Harris, had complained: "We're dealing with 30- to 35-year-olds who have the talent of 10-year-old Americans". Oh, such wonderful clubhouse chemistry!

Thursday, July 22, 2004

A Hawaiian in Holland

Hawaiian catcher Chad Sakumoto, is playing for Robur '58 in the Netherlands.

Olympic baseball massage therapist

Here's an odd one from the student newspaper at the University of Minnesota: one of their graduates, Marcia Swanson, beat out 400 other applicants to become one of 100 memebers of the Sports Massage Team for the 2004 Summer Olympics. "Swanson will work specifically on international baseball players," the Minnesota Daily reports.

INSEP baseball impresses

Jonathan Weaver, a sixteen-year-old from Maryland who holds both American and French citizenship, is a member of France's Junior National Team which competed at last year's U16 European Championships in the Netherlands. He will be moving to France this summer and will be training at the French National Institute of the Sports and Physical Education.

His father, Scott Weaver, is impressed by the level of baseball training at INSEP:

"I was blown away with the level of competition," said Scott Weaver, who played college baseball and who is a pilot for American Airlines. "They ran it like a college program or even a single-A or double-A minor-league team. The on-campus [facilities] houses 9,000 students. They've been playing baseball in France for 20 years. They're more into baseball than you think."

At INSEP, Weaver will be working toward his French Baccalaureate, but may eventually go back to the the United States or Canada to play college ball.

Germany expels top club

In Germany, the baseball federation has expelled one of its leading clubs from the country's premier league competition. The Cologne Dodgers were excluded from the premier Bundesliga after the club failed to appear for a game in Solingen. Under the League's rules, a club can be expelled if it is found to have violated league rules on three occasions in one season. All of the games played by the club this season were reclassified as 9- or 7-0 forfeits, and Cologne will be relegated to the second Bundesliga for next season. Cologne's participation in regional leagues is not affected.

This is the second controversy surrounding Cologne this season. In May, the club angered the German federation by forcing a legal precident that applied the so-called Bosman Ruling to German baseball.

Bush's baseball buddies

Major League Baseball types have done very well under President George W. Bush. Five baseball owners are major Bush campaign contributors who have been rewarded with sought-after European ambassadorships, despite lacking much knowledge of local languages, reports the liberal political magazine Mother Jones. Have these people done anything for the development of their sport in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Spain, and Switzerland?

Friday, July 16, 2004

Welsh baseball?

I don't know a thing about the game called "baseball" in Wales. All I know is it's not the same game I refer to by that word. According to one web site I found:

Welsh Baseball is an 11-a-side team game played with a wooden bat and a hard ball, mainly in South Wales and parts of north-west England. It differs in several respects, and notably in the matter of equipment, from the more widely-known form of baseball played in the USA. The clothing worn by the players is much simpler and catching gloves and other protective gear is not used. The bat is made of willow and has a flat striking edge which tapers evenly into the handle.

The governing body appears to be the Welsh Baseball Union, based in Newport. The local Member of Parliament, Paul Flynn, writes of his home region:

Even in sport, Grangetown and other working class parts of Cardiff had its own distinctive personality. Only areas of Newport and Liverpool share our devotion to Welsh Baseball. Crowds of up to ten thousand would flock to important matches in parks in Roath and Grangetown. Not only was it the most popular summer sport in the war, it was the only one. Cricket was in hibernation. Few Cardiffians of my age saw a game of cricket before their tenth birthdays.

SABR UK considers the historical relationship between the two variations of the bat-and-ball game.

Pre-Olympic warmups

European Olympic baseball teams Greece, Italy and the Netherlands will face friendly competitions against the other teams in the Olympic tournament in the runup to the Athens Games next month.

Greece will face Canada on 2 August at Toronto's SkyDome, and again on 4 August at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

Italy and the Netherlands will be at a warm-up tournament in Rome from 7 to 10 August, facing Canada, Cuba and Taiwan.

Jets player joins British cadets

Thirteen-year-old Adam Jones of Runcorn Jets has been called up to the Great Britain cadet national team. The team will travel to the Netherlands next month for a tournament against teams USA, Canada, Russia, Czech Republic and the Netherlands.

The Liverpool Daily Post reports that the young pitcher has received a £600 sports development grant from Halton Borough Council and £400 from his club's sponsor, Rocksavage Power Company. Additional support will come from donations from the congregation of Brook Chape and Adam's school, the Heath Technology College.

British sports writing "mediocre"

Writing in the New Statesman, Jason Cowley says that British sports writing is mediocre, whereas there is a long tradition of literary sports writing in America -- particularly in games like baseball and golf.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

World Cup delayed until 2006?

The Arizona Republic is reporting that the proposed professional World Cup may be postponed until 2006 to resolve differences with the Japanese and Korean professional leagues.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Envoys in 13 nations

Major League Baseball's Envoy Programme, has sent baseball coaches to 13 European nations this summer to teach the fundamentals of the game.

MLB envoys are in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

In addition, the envoys are running baseball clinics for children of U.S. military personnel on bases in Germany, Italy and Great Britain.

Friday, July 09, 2004

World Cup loses top teams

So much for that idea:

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) officially announced Thursday that it would not participate in the event scheduled to take place next March. The Japan Professional Baseball (NPB) also said they would stay away from the World Cup.

Park Yong-oh, commissioner of the KBO, will met his Japanese counterpart Negoro Yasuchika this weekend to discuss matters of mutual concern and then meet MLB commissioner Bud Selig in Houston next Wednesday to hand over the official decision of the two Asian baseball-governing bodies.

Lack of consideration for South Korea and Japan was outlined as the primary reason for the boycott, the KBO explained. According to the KBO, the tournament is heavily centered on benefiting the MLB and its players association.

Currently 53 percent of the revenues allotment goes to the MLB, the players association and the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), while the rest will be used for prize money and participation fees for the remaining countries.

The NPB also said that the scheduling clash with its domestic league was another major reason for not wanting to participate. With many teams suffering financial problems, several are known to be discussing merging together and the NPB is also considering going to a single-league system.

Park has reportedly suggested forming a steering committee for the tournament composed of the executives from South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. last March, which wasn’t accepted by the MLB side.

Lessons learned: Major League Baseball needs to accept that while it is the 900-pound gorilla of baseball, it is, in the global scheme of things, just one professional league of many. A true professional World Cup will have to be a proper IBAF event, not just a MLB marketing scheme. The problem is that unlike football around the world -- and the domestic baseball competitions of other countries -- MLB is not subject to a governing body which could demand the participation of American players. If it is going to be successful globally, MLB must learn from the NBA and NHL. North American basketball and ice hockey works in international competitions. Why not baseball?

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Another Greek player profile

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution profiles local boy Nick Markakis, who will be playing for Greek baseball team in the Olympics.

The 20-year-old played for Greece in last year's European Championships in the Netherlands. It was his first trip overseas. Markakis, the national junior college player of the year, was picked seventh in the amateur draft by the Baltimore Orioles, signed for $1.85 million, and now plays for the Class A Delmarva Shorebirds.

He nearly didn't get on the team because it was unclear what position he would play:

The [Greek] team wanted Markakis as a pitcher. The Orioles drafted him as an outfielder. During his final season at Young Harris College, Markakis went 12-0 with a 1.60 ERA, striking out 160 in 96 innings. The left-hander throws a fastball that reaches the mid-90s, a power slider and a change-up one major-league scout described as "plus, plus, plus."

The Cincinnati Reds drafted Markakis twice with plans to let him pitch, but they couldn't agree on a contract. The Orioles picked him in June 2003 as an outfielder, a decision that surprised many in the baseball community, including Markakis. It's not as if he can't hit. His current manager, Bien Figueroa of the Class A Delmarva Shorebirds, compares Markakis' swing with that of the Dodgers' Shawn Green. Markakis set a record at Young Harris College with 21 home runs and drove in 90, but only after being inserted in the lineup when the team's first baseman was injured.


Because Markakis was forbidden to pitch, he no longer had a lock on making the Greek Olympic team, as there already was plenty of depth in the outfield.

Japan rejects World Cup

The Japanese owners have rejected MLB's plan for a professional baseball World Cup. Like some Major League players, they are concerned about the timing of the event in spring training. They also make a valid point:

"The owners object to Major League Baseball hosting the event and feel a third party like the International Baseball Federation should be in charge," said an official from the Japanese office of the commissioner, speaking on condition of anonymity.

If this is to be a proper international tournament, it should be run like one. Now, if only someone would object to how the participating countries are selected!

Friday, July 02, 2004

NAIA team at Robur '58

The Bowling Green Daily News in Bowling Green, Kentucky, reports on a team of 16 NAIA baseball players who travelling to the Netherlands to play in the Robur '58 baseball series in Den Haag. The team is organised by an organisation called USA Athletes International.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Some links

Baseball America has excellect article summarising all the problems that the baseball World Cup has overcome and has yet to overcome. Slate reviews a new book about what football tells us about globalisation. And the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reports that George Kottaras, who plays for the local minor league team, will represent Team USA Greece in the Olympics.