The Time Baseball Was Played in front of 100,000 fans

We all may know that the opening game of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Los Angeles Coliseum drew over 90,000 fans. But 22 years earlier, a baseball event drew even 100,000 spectators. And it wasn’t even at American soil.

On a summer day in August during the 1936 Olympics, baseball was a demonstration sport which was rather remarkable since Nazi Germany rather denied everything American, especially Jazz music and black athletes. Nevertheless, baseball would be a demonstration sport for the first time since the 1912 Olympics.

Yes, baseball was a demonstration sport at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. And no, it wasn’t at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. The demonstration sports at the 1932 Olympics were (American) football and lacrosse. During the 1912 Olympics, a US team (that contained  members of the American Olympic track and field athletics delegation) took on the Swedish team that was the Vesterås Baseball Club, which had been formed in 1910 as the first baseball club in Sweden. Four of the Americans played for Sweden as the Swedish pitchers and catchers did not have much of experience.

But let’s go back to that 1936 August summer night during the Berlin Olympics. The Olympic Stadium was packed with 100,000 spectators. The two teams that played the game, both came from the United States.

In a special Olympic newspaper, the game of baseball was explained. The newspaper headed: Baseball als Olympia -Einlage vor Laien (loosely translated as “Baseball as demonstration sport for Dummies”).

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The exhibition game lasted seven innings and of the two teams branded US Olympics and World Champions, the World Champions won 6-5.

One of the US teams during the 1936 Olympics exhibition game.

According to a sports writer, the 100,000 specators were bored to death by the game. With four-inch-wide white tape pressed down on the grass of the Olympic Stadium serving as foul lines and a soccer goal used as a backstop behind home plate, the game was played between teams of purely amateurs.

The game was played under artificial light. A rarity as the first night game in MLB was played a year earlier in Cincinnati. The lights were not good enough for a baseball game as they illuminated the field up to 50 yards so fly balls disappeared into the darkness.

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This picture shows the poor lighting during that exhibition game at the 1936 Olympics

Without knowing the rules, bored spectators started to leave the stadium in the third ininng. By the fourth inning the majority of the “fans” disappeared and only a few thousand remained seated.

At one point in the game, the spectators let out a wild cheer. Nothing had happened in the game and the American ballplayers didn’t know why the leftover fans cheered. The announcer had declared, in German, that the game was almost over…

Source: Wikipedia, New York Times

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