In Right off the Bat, Martin and I trace the contours of international-baseball competition. Such count the Olympics (including Hitler’s infamous 1936 Games), the World Baseball Classic, and the far older European Baseball Championship. In fact, some of the all-time largest crowds, in the low six figures, have witnessed baseball at two different Summer Olympics: Berlin and, less shocking, Tokyo in 1964.
The number of nations fielding professional ball clubs is somewhat surprising. But big-time play between “baseball countries” is nowhere on the competitive scale of the just-completed ICC World Cup or the just-commencing (at this writing) IPL.
One of the largely unreported and offbeat stories regarding the spread of the National Pastime involves a Soviet barnstorming squad from 1989. If this first brings to mind the New York Yankees chewing up amateur Japanese teams of the early 1930s, then “barnstorming” might not be le mot juste.
Check out this report from the Times—exactly twenty-six years ago.
Speaking of contours, there is a learning curve to be sure, and we are not talking of the Sal Maglie variety. The late cold-war event inspired a no-doubt entertaining TV movie, The Comrades of Summer, a few years later.
Progress continues apace via the Russian Federation of Baseball, and Russia even grabbed a Silver Medal at the EBC in 2001. (Greece won its lone CEB Silver the year before; and, having resorted to their language, let me now say that France sneaked in a medal, too.)
And don’t forget the medieval-Russian game, Lapta.