Schuster: Baseball in the 1912 Olympics

From SABR member Joe Schuster at The National Pastime Museum on August 6, 2016:

After a disappointing showing in the 1908 Olympic Games in London, in which the host nation trounced the American contingent decidedly—winning 146 medals to only 47 for the US team—several US Olympic Committee officials accused British organizers of gross unfairness. One of them, Gustavus Kirby, who was also head of the Amateur Athletic Association (AAU), told a New York Times reporter that Britain had treated American athletes with disrespect (they did not, among other slights, fly the Stars and Stripes at the opening ceremonies) and, perhaps worse, unfairness. According to Kirby, they had done whatever they could to “make it difficult for any Americans to win or, for that matter, any competitor to win who was not [from] Great Britain. . . .”

Although British Olympic officials denied Kirby’s accusations, and Olympic officials from other countries came to Britain’s support, the poor showing and suspicion of mistreatment stuck in the craw of American athletes and officials as they prepared for the next games, in Sweden in 1912. They were determined to use the 1912 games as an opportunity to demonstrate that America’s poor showing four years earlier was not an accurate reflection of the country’s prowess in athletics.

Newspaper stories leading up to the games that summer feverishly promoted those Olympics as a chance to “assist in upholding the athletic prestige of the United States among the nations.” James Sullivan, one of the US Olympic officials who joined Kirby in protesting the way the team had been treated in 1908, and the person for whom the Sullivan Award for amateur athletics is named, promised “an American triumph which will overshadow the achievements of any band of athletes which has ever left the States . . . I fancy that our men will score more points than the combined Nations of the world.” (To determine the national winner, nations would earn three points for a first-place finish, two for a second, and one for a third.)

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Originally published: August 8, 2016. Last Updated: August 8, 2016.