The inaugural World Baseball Classic, scheduled for next March,
should be the greatest event in the up and down history of
international baseball, as it will bring together the world’s best
players for the first time in a true international competition. Here
are 10 moments over the years that have been instrumental in the game
broadening its horizons:
1. Baseball gains medal status in Olympics. Baseball gained
official Olympic status on Oct. 13, 1986, effective with the 1992 Games
in Barcelona. That sparked worldwide growth in the sport, and 112
nations now have recognized baseball federations, including Russia and
2. Professional players become eligible for international competition.
The congress of the International Baseball Federation voted in favor of
allowing pros–including major leaguers–to take part in international
competition on Sept. 21, 1996. Major leaguers have never participated
in a significant international competition because of scheduling
3. Team USA gets attention at 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Baseball was only a demonstration sport, but sellout crowds at Dodger
Stadium helped the sport gain full medal status two years later. The
U.S. fielded arguably the greatest amateur team ever, featuring Will
Clark, Mark McGwire and Barry Larkin, but lost in the gold-medal game
4. MLB plays games on foreign soil. No regular season major
league game had ever been played outside the United States or Canada
before the Padres met the Mets in a three-game series in Monterrey,
Mexico, on Aug. 16-18 1996. Since then, games have been played in Japan
and Puerto Rico, including last year’s season opener, as Major League
Baseball expands its global appeal.
5. U.S. wins gold at 2000 Olympics. In the first Olympics
featuring professional players, Brewers prospect Ben Sheets spun a
three-hitter as the U.S. beat previously invincible Cuba in the
gold-medal game, 4-0.
6. Cuba dominates the baseball world. Cuba has dominated
international competition for a half-century, including a 10-year span
from 1987-97 when it reeled off 134 consecutive wins in major
international competition. Vulnerable in 1999 at the Pan American Games
because of defections, the introduction of wood bats and the use of
pros by the U.S. and Canada, Cuba still won the gold medal to qualify
for the Sydney Olympics. It was a sign that even though the playing
field has been leveled to some degree, the Cubans remain a force.
7. U.S. gets knocked out of 2004 Olympics in qualifying tournament.
Team USA, the defending Olympic gold medalist, failed to even qualify
for the 2004 Athens Games when it was upset by Mexico, 2-1, in a
qualification tournament in Panama.
8. Goodwill teams travel to Japan. Teams of barnstorming
major leaguers have been making postseason trips to Japan since 1931,
with the exception of a 17-year absence around World War II. All-star
teams of college players from the U.S. and Japan have taken turns
playing host to one another since 1967.
9. 1969 World Cup marks American return to international prominence.
The U.S. had little presence in international baseball in 1967, when it
upset Cuba at the Pan American Games with a team of college all-stars.
Buoyed by that success, the U.S. participated in the ’69 World Cup in
the Dominican Republic for the first time in 26 years. America has been
an active participant in major international events since and a major
player in the growth of international baseball.
10. Record crowds turn out for 1936 Olympics. Against the
backdrop of Hitler’s Germany, the largest crowd (estimated at 125,000)
ever to see a baseball game watched two U.S. teams play an exhibition
game at Olympic Stadium in Berlin.