Baseball's success as a demonstration sport at the Los Angeles Olympics will probably propel it to full-fledged status by 1988 according to Rod Dedeaux, coach of this year's US team. While that isn't official, Dedeaux is very close to the thinking of those who will decide on the program for the next games in Seoul, South Korea.
Except for the track and field events at the Coliseum, plus soccer at the Rose Bowl, baseball outdrew every other sport during its 8-day run at Dodger Stadium. The final crowd count came to 385,285 paid admissions, or an average of 48,161 at each doubleheader. Ticket prices were not cheap, either, with a top of
That loss disappointed the home crowd, but it probably did some long-range good in helping to erase any feeling that Uncle Sam's pitchers and hitters were invincible. In fact, baseball has been mushrooming so rapidly since 1964 that it is now played regularly in more than 75 countries.
We're not talking about some hoked-up version of baseball in a cow pasture, either, but about teams as highly organized as any you will find in the US. Most scouts rated the play of the eight teams involved (Japan, USA, Nicaragua, Korea, Italy, Canada, Chinese Taipei, and the Dominican Republic) as on a par with Double A professional baseball here in the States.
Considering the number of years the Japanese national team has been together, those who favored the US obviously took too much for granted. They no doubt were overly influenced by the squad's 33-city cross-country tour in which it rolled up a 27-4-1 record, five of those wins coming against minor league teams.
The Japanese team they faced in L.A., however, was not the same one they had beaten six times in seven games during that tour. New players were added to that squad. It also turned out to be a team that never got flustered, showed strong pitching, and seemed to have an uncanny flair for making its hits count.
The Japanese player everyone was talking about was 19-year-old outfielder Yukio Aria, who led all batters with a .500 average, hit two home runs, a triple , and two doubles, and drove in two runs in the title game.
The lefthanded-hitting Aria, who could walk through a Volkswagen Bug without lowering his head, reminded several scouts of Lloyd Waner, who totaled 2,459 hits during an 18-year National League career with Pittsburgh, Boston, and Brooklyn. If his lack of height doesn't scare off US major league general managers, Yukio might even have a future here in the States.
Olympic baseball actually has a long history as a demonstration sport It was first played at Stockholm in 1912, and also was on display at Berlin in 1936 (Eva Braun reportedly was fascinated by the game), at Helsinki in '52, Melbourne in '56, and Tokyo in '64.
But in almost every case baseball was played on fields better suited for football, and on infields that were often the consistency of concrete. Backgrounds that favored the hitters were also in short supply.
As for Eva Braun, she asked to talk to one of the American players according to Carson Thompson, a member of that '36 US team. They had just arrived in Berlin, he recalls, and had no idea who she was, but ''since I spoke some German , I was elected to find out what she wanted.''
It turned out, according to Thompson, that Hitler was having a filmed documentary of the Games produced, and had promised Eva she could do the color commentary on baseball. She was deadly serious, too, he recalls, about learning the finer points of the game. And although they had trouble communicating for a while, things worked out as soon as it was discovered that Eva's English was much superior to Carson's German.