Host City: Beijing, China
Venue(s): Wukesong Baseball Field, Beijing
Date Started: August 13, 2008
Date Finished: August 23, 2008
Format: Round-robin tournament followed by semi-finals and final.
Baseball had been on the Olympic Program since 1992, although it had been demonstrated more than any other sport at the Olympics - 1912, 1936, 1956, 1964, 1984, and 1988. But to the IOC, baseball had problems as an Olympic sport. In 2005, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) began an investigation into the sports on the Olympic Program. Several new sports, including golf, rugby sevens, and karate, were attempting to get onto the Olympic Program and the IOC wanted to keep the program stable in terms of number of sports. If it was going to add any new sports, some older sports would have to be removed from the Olympics. Baseball was felt to be at risk to be removed, because of doping problems in the American professional leagues, because the top American professionals from Major League Baseball did not play in the Olympics, the relatively high cost of constructing a baseball stadium that would not be used in many countries, the relatively few number of nations that competed internationally at a high level, and since Olympic baseball was far from the top competition in the sport – all criteria the IOC considered important. But when the IOC met to reconsider the Olympic Program, an unusual thing happened. No sports were added to the Olympic Program but baseball was removed, as was softball, which was felt to be guilty by association. Thus, unless the IOC reconsiders, the 2008 tournament was to be the last one for baseball at the Olympics, although the International Baseball Federation continues to appeal to be reinstated to the program.
The dominant team in amateur baseball since the mid-1950s had been Cuba, and they had won the gold medals in 1992, 1996, and 2004, with the United States winning in 2000. But Cuba was losing some of that dominance, related to a number of reasons. The fall of the Soviet Union, and their financial support thru the 1980s, caused some problems. But many Cuban players were also defecting to the United States, lured by the promise of big money in major league baseball. Cuba had still won the World Cup in 2001, 2003, and 2005, but the United States defeated them in 2007. And in 2006, Major League Baseball sponsored the World Baseball Classic, which matched national teams, including pros from the Major Leagues. Played before the start of the Major League season, it was won by Japan. In younger divisions, Korea had won the World Junior Baseball Championship in 2000, 2006, and 2008.
As it had since 1992, the 2008 tournament consisted of eight teams playing a round-robin tournament, followed by elimination games. Korea won the round-robin, defeating Cuba 7-4, with the United States third, losing only to Cuba and Korea. The semi-finals matched Cuba against the United States and Korea versus Japan. Cuba routed the US, 10-2, while Korea advanced to the final with a 6-2 victory over Japan. The final was a nail biter, but Korea won their first, and possibly last, Olympic baseball gold medal, 3-2.