One of the things that keeps me motivated to continue this blog is the fact that the more I look into the history of the game, the more I find out about it. One of the frustrating things about this blog is that I find so many interesting stories that I’m not able to replay the World Series as quickly as I’d like. Hopefully, the things that I find interesting are also things that will make you coming back for more. Like Olympic baseball in 1936.
I had not realized that baseball had been played in the Olympics before 1984, so when I came across this story, I knew I had to blog about it.
Baseball had been played in 3 previous Olympics before 1936; 1904, 1912, and 1928. These were basically pick-up games played with the track and field athletes, and were just exhibitions to show the game of baseball to the other participating countries. The 1936 Berlin Olympics, the infamous Hitler Olympics, would not only showcase the athletic ability of Jesse Owens and his 4 gold medals, but it would actually have real baseball players, playing in a scheduled game against a Japanese baseball team.
Les Mann played 16 seasons in the Major Leagues compiling a .282 average.
This game was all made possible by former major league player, Les Mann. He had petitioned the Olympic Committee back in 1932 to include baseball, but was denied. He spent the next 4 years trying to make sure he wasn’t denied in 1936. He helped form the USA Baseball Congress, gathered up sponsors, including Louisville Slugger and Wheaties, and was able to get an invitation from the German Olympic Committee to send a team to the Olympics.
In July of 1936 he held a tryout in Baltimore, and with the endorsement of Babe Ruth, was able select a squad from some of the best college ball players in the US. Mann put together a team of 20 players from various colleges that included Stanford, the University of Nebraska, the Western State Teachers College, the University of Texas, Brooklyn College, and USC.
After playing a couple of exhibition games the players, coaches and officials boarded the SS Manhattan, along with the rest of the US Olympic team and sailed to Berlin, via France and Hamburg.
The US baseball team inside the Olympic village
Unfortunately the Japanese baseball team backed out of the scheduled game, and the US had to play an intra squad game. The teams would be called the US Olympics and the World Champions.
The US Olympics:
RF- Dick Hanna
The teams were managed by Les Mann and Harry Wolter. The Umpires were George “Tiny” Parker, John Whalen, and Takizo Matsumato, a Japanese official.
Bill Sayles pitched in parts of 2 seasons in the majors, compiling a 1-3 record with a 5.61 ERA. He was the only participant to see major league action.
Herman Goldberg was the only Jewish ball player, and just one of 5 Jewish athletes representing the US. All 5 participated despite the rampant anti-Semitism pervasive in Germany at the time, and a concerted effort to have the US boycott the Olympics. Goldberg said that he saw no incidents of anti-Semitism while in Germany, but his name appeared on the stadium scoreboard as Goldburgh.
Norman Livermore was already in Germany and an acquaintance of Harry Wolter and was asked to join the team.
The athletes were housed in a surprisingly luxuriant Olympic village, containing spacious rooms, and excellent dining accommodations. The village was later used as a military training facility.
The American ball players received a lot of positive press and their night game played at Reichssport Field was seen by between 90,000- 125,000 spectators. The title of this German newspaper article is Was es Das? It tried to explain the game of baseball to the German people but some of the language did not translate so well. Centerfield was mittelausen, while left field was linkausen, roughly translated as “way out in the left side”. The pitcher was der werfen or “the thrower in”. They were unable to come up with a German word to properly describe shortstop, so it remained simply shortstop. The bases were einmal, sweimal, and dreimal. Or, 1st time, 2nd time, and 3rd time.
The ball players took to the field with great fanfare and were greeted on the field by numerous German dignitaries, including Herman Goring. I’m not sure if Hitler was in attendance. The game was played on a make shift diamond located inside the running track. The foul line was made of white tape, there was a rigged backstop, an all grass infield and no pitcher’s mound.
Because of the poor lighting the pitchers had to throw at a reduced speed so that the batter could pick up the ball.
Hubert Shaw hit an inside the park home run to give the Olympics an early 2-0 lead in the 1st. The World Champions battled back to score 3 runs in the 6th to take a 5-4 lead. After some initial excitement from the German crowd, the players and coaches noticed that a lot of people were leaving, so they decided to play just 7 innings. The Olympics tied the score at 5 in the top of the 7th, but Les McNeese hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 7th to win it for the World Champions 6-5.
Despite the German crowd cheering while none was deserved, such as during an infield pop up, and remaining quiet while actual runs were being scored they seemed to enjoy themselves. They were especially taken by the animated strike calls and hand gestures from home plate umpire Tiny Parker. After the game Dr. Carl Diem, the person in charge all the preparations for the 1936 Olympics, congratulated the players on a fine exhibition. “ I have come officially to advise you that this has been the finest demonstration of any sport that any nation has ever put on at any Olympic games. We congratulate you and, speaking for my people, you have made over 100,000 friends here tonight, and as they go home, America’s baseball players’ praises will be sung by all.”
The game proved such a success that the International Olympic Committee approved baseball for the 1940 Olympics in Japan. Unfortunately WW II wiped out those Olympics, and baseball would not be a part of another Olympics until 1984.
A large part of the research for this post came from an article written by M.E. Travaglini, Was es Das? published in The National Pastime(1985)