The Tokyo Olympics will have Fanfare but no Common Man

On July 8, 2021, in another in a long list of “the show must go on” actions it was announced that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics would still start at the end of July 2021, but would do so without fans in attendance.

In short, the games would have fanfare but no common man or woman in the stands cheering the athletes onto victory.

The reason cited for the nixing of fans and pomp and circumstance was the fact that Tokyo is currently under a state of National Emergency due to the number of COVID-19 cases sweeping through the region.

COVID-19 was surging in Tokyo last year as well which caused the 2020 Summer Games to move to 2021.

So, with not much changed in terms of the amount of virus in and around Tokyo between this time last year and now, the games will continue. After all, organizers will be quick to say that there is too much money on the line to postpone the games once again.

Although the idea of going full blast with the Olympics while the average citizens of Japan are battling the COVID-19 monster sounds like the plot of a bad Godzilla movie, it is very much a real thing.

In 1992 I made my first trip to the Los Angeles Coliseum. I returned over 20 years later and the building was just as iconic and awe inspiring as it had been to me as a child. In 2028 the Olympic games will make their fourth trip to the coliseum.
Photo R. Anderson

I have always loved watching classic Godzilla movies. While the battles between Godzilla and his band of monsters are entertaining, I enjoy the way that the heroes always win in the end by using sound scientific principles.

It does not take a scientist battling a radioactive monster to see that even without fans, having thousands of athletes, coaches, media and other support personnel travel to a virus hot spot for two weeks and then returning to their home countries does not seem like the brightest idea.

At least by banning fans from the venues inside Tokyo the number of people who would potentially take COVID-19 back to their home countries is minimized somewhat.

But this is not a column about my love of Godzilla movies, or the rationale of holding international sporting events during COVID-19. For right or wrong, numerous leagues across the world have declared themselves open for business and the COVID0-19 virus vanquished. Many scientists and other people dispute that claim but still the games must go on.

Were I in a position to make that decision, I would certainly postpone the games. However, at the end of the day, it does not really matter to me whether the Olympics are held or not since I will not be watching them, nor really caring about who wins what medal.

My ambivalence towards the Olympics is a somewhat recent development. I was once a fan of the Olympic games and all that I thought they stood for. However, I grew cynical to the point of despising the Olympics while pursuing my Master of Science (M.S.) in Sport Management.

I am sure that my instructors thought that the in-depth study of the Olympics would fill me to the brim with pride. However, the more I studied the Olympics, the more it had the opposite effect.

Once you peel back the layers of the Olympic onion and get past all of the pomp and circumstance, one is left with a very rotten core where sportsmanship and competition are overshadowed by greed and graft.

In 2014, I glowingly wrote about my excitement to watch the Opening Ceremony for the Winter Games in Sochi Russia. In my column, I mentioned some of the issues that the Russian organizers were having in finishing the facilities in time for the opening ceremonies but the overall theme of the column was that I was looking forward to the games and saw them as something that brought the world together for a few weeks of positive competition.

From the bribes and kickbacks during the host city selection process, to the fact that billions of dollars in facility construction is often spent in third world countries where citizens live in poverty and the shiny arenas of the Olympics turn into crumbling relics after the games the Olympic are rife with a darker side.

Six months after the torch was extinguished at the 2016 Summer games in Rio de Janeiro, many of the Olympic venues had been abandoned and were in various states of decay. One need only do an internet search on abandoned Olympic sites to see that Rio is far from alone in spending billions of dollars to build the infrastructure for the Olympics only to watch it all go to waste after the torch has moved on to the next city.

The crumbling Olympic venues dotting landscapes across the globe serve as reminders that as cities continue to battle to host the games, some countries would be better off spending the billions of dollars it takes to host the games in others ways.

When the Summer Olympic Games return to Los Angeles in 2028 they will utilize myriad existing stadiums, ballparks and arenas which is a stark contrast to the build it and abandon in place approach employed during the Summer games in Athens and Rio de Janeiro among other cities.
Photo R. Anderson

As someone once said, “History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.”

While I am against the Olympics on principle, I support the various athletes who train for years for what often amounts to a single chance to go for gold on the world stage.

In that regard, I can see that continuing to postpone the games will have serious ramifications on athletes from around the world who dream of that one shot at Olympic glory and immortality.

The old saying about hating the game not the player comes to mind along with visions of Hamilton and Eminem not wanting to give away their one shot.

The 2020 games taking place in 2021 will feature the return of baseball, and softball as Olympic sports. Baseball was last an Olympic sport in 2008. Additionally, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) agreed back in 2016 to add karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing to the competition slate for the Tokyo games in a bid to attract younger fans to the games and stay relevant.

Although I no longer watch the Olympics, every four years I dust of my 100th Anniversary of Olympics music soundtrack for some fanfare for the common man as well as some good old fashioned Olympic fanfare by John Williams.
Photo R. Anderson

As someone who still has their 1985 Topps Mark McGwire Olympics rookie card, I am certainly happy to see baseball back in the Olympics, but even that does not really move my excitement needle to want to watch the games this year.

Despite my current position on the Olympics, I am hopeful that I may once again put on my blinders and see the whole onion instead of the rotten layers.

I have always been more of a Winter Olympics fan than a Summer Olympic fan. As such, perhaps my cynicism will melt by the time hockey and curling roll around in 2022 at the Beijing Winter Olympic games. If not, one can hope that I will be California dreaming by 2028 and will be watching beach volleyball and surfing on the sands and waves of SoCal that I know so well.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the sudden urge to listen to some Blue Oyster Cult.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Looking Back at Some Historic Long Balls Tainted by the Lens of Revisionism and Hindsight

The other day I watched the 30 for 30 documentary Long Gone Summer on ESPN. The film chronicles the 1998 battle between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs as they battled to break the Major League Baseball (MLB) single season home run record set by Roger Maris of the New York Yankees in 1961.

I always enjoy the 30 for 30 series, and this entry was no exception. As I watched the documentary, I was taken back to the excitement of the battle between McGwire and Sosa during the summer of 1998. I was also reminded of the minor role I played three years later when Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants tied the record of 70 home runs that McGwire set in 1998.

On October 4, 2001, I saw my first baseball game at Enron Field (now modern-day Minute Maid Park). Aside from being my first visit to what was then a National League Ballpark, October 4, 2001 was also the day that Barry Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s home run record at 70.
Photo R. Anderson

On October 4, 2001, I saw my first baseball game at Enron Field (now modern-day Minute Maid Park) when the Houston Astros hosted the San Francisco Giants.

The game had originally been scheduled for September, but was moved to October after a week of games was cancelled following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Aside from being my first visit to what was then a National League Ballpark, October 4, 2001 was also the day that Barry Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s home run record at 70. Bonds hit the record tying homer in the ninth inning off of Houston Astros rookie left-hander Wilfredo Rodriguez.

The home run came after Bonds was walked eight times, and hit by a pitch once in 14 prior plate appearances in the series against the Astros. After Bonds was intentionally walked, the over 40,000 fans in attendance booed Astros manager Larry Dierker. It is not every day that the home team manager is booed for walking an opponent.

Perhaps not wanting to be booed again, Dierker allowed Rodriquez to pitch to Bonds the next time he came to the plate. When the ball left Bonds’ bat, the stands erupted in cheers as that record tying homer sailed over the wall. Of course, it is not often that a home run hit by the opposing team gets such a response, but this was history in the making. Or at least it was history tying in the making.

Bonds made two curtain calls following the home run, and the world of baseball was truly united on that one evening a little under a month since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 shook the nation to its core.

The same thing happened when Sosa and McGwire were battling for the record in 1998. Fans of baseball put aside their team partisanship and rooted for Sosa and McGwire as individuals for the greater good of the game. This fact is even more amazing when one considers how bitter the fan bases of the Cubs and Cardinals can be to each other.

It would be nearly 10 years to the day before I saw the Giants play the Astros again after my first trip to the Ballpark. The return game occurred three years after Barry Bonds last played, and lacked the record setting buzz, and the crowds of my first trip to the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Fast forward to that 2001 October night in Houston, and fans were once again cheering for a player from a hated rival.

Bonds very well may have broken that record as well during the same game that he tied it were it not for Dierker deciding to give Bonds an intentional walk in a game that the Astros had very little chance of winning.

I recall writing at the time that the history denying intentional walk was not in the spirit of competition. Instead, by walking Bonds, Dierker was manipulating records by not allowing the at bat to proceed organically without the interference of a manager refusing to let his pitcher throw to the batter.

At the end of the 2001 season, Larry Dierker was no longer managing the Astros after another early playoff exit. I have often wondered whether his actions of committing a sin against the baseball records played a part in the decision of the team to go in a different direction.

If memory serves, at the time, Dierker called it shameful that the Astros fans had dared to cheer for Bonds the way they did. I guess he just did not understand the gravity of the moment. Or, perhaps he did, and wasn’t swayed by it.

As an aside, it should be noted that Rodriquez, the other key Astros player that night, had only appeared in two games prior to giving up the home run, and he never pitched in an MLB game again after Bonds tied the record against him.

Before going any further, it is important to acknowledge the elephant in the room. In the years since 1998 and 2001, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds have each, to varying degrees, had their career accomplishments overshadowed by whispers of how much of a role performance enhancing drugs (PED) played in their record setting achievements.

Each of the three men are currently on the outside looking in of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, along with many other players from that era who have been tied to suspicion of PED use.

As I have noted many times before, players tied to the PED era should be allowed in the Hall of Fame. I am in the minority opinion in that issue, but I have not wavered in my resolve. The Baseball writers who elect the members of the Hall of Fame have a duty to enshrine the best players from an era. Unfortunately, some writers feel that they can act as the morality police and ban players in order to make a political statement.

This approach can ring shallow since it is entirely possible that players already in the Hall did far worse things on and off of the field than the players being punished for PED use. That is not to say that I condone PED use. I do not. Players from that era should be enshrined with an asterisk by their numbers stating that it was during the era of PED. That way, fans can decide for themselves how much that impacted a player’s ability on the field.

Time will tell whether the tide turns to allow players from the steroid era of baseball to be enshrined in Cooperstown, or if they will fall victim to voters who feel that the inclusion of tainted players would hurt more than a steroid injection in the butt.

Barry Bonds went on to break Hank Aaron’s career home run mark. Steroids or not, when one does that a collectible is made in their honor.
Photo R. Anderson

Personally, I would much rather see a player in the Hall, who may or may not have used PEDs, than a player who was tipped off on every pitch by a tell-tale trash can. Talk about a performance enhancer.

In addition to breaking the single season home run record with 72, Bonds also broke the career home run record with 756. Both records have detractors who question their validity. However, both records will stand until another player breaks them.

While I did not get to see history made, getting to see history tied while visiting only my second Major League Ballpark at the time was a pretty cool way to spend an October night.

With the hindsight of the nearly 20 years since that October 2001 night, I have often wondered whether the experience is tainted at all by the accusations against Bond that followed. Given the chance to be there again for that night, I would do it all over again and would probably have cheered even louder.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this trip down memory lane has me craving some nachos.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson