Tuesday, February 23, 2010

7. Bill Sayles

In tribute to the spirit of the Olympics going on now in Canada we have Bill Sayles, member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic Baseball Team. Although baseball was first showcased at the 1912 Games, 1936 was the first organized team specifically made up of real ballplayers. Tryouts were held in Baltimore and 12 amateur ballplayers were selected. They were later augmented by a few more ex-collegiate players and the team sailed to Berlin in August 1936. Originally the idea was for the U.S. team to play a team from Japan but the latter pulled out before the games started. The U.S. team was split into 2 teams, the home team called the "Weltmeisters" or "World Champions" and the visiting team called the "U.S.A. Olympics". In the week leading up to the exhibition game newspaper articles were printed and clinics were held demonstrating the finer points of the National Pastime. On the evening of August 12, 1936 the 2 teams took the field before over 100,000 spectators. After 7 innings of play, Weltmeister player Les McNeece hit a home run breaking the 5-5 tie to win the game. The crowd which had steadily dwindled over the course of the game politely applauded and the first Olympic baseball game ended. The International Olympic Committee agreed to feature Baseball in the 1940 Tokyo Games and 16 nations were slated to compete but the second world war put a stop to that. The sport was not to make another Olympic appearance until 1984.

Bill Sayles. This University of Oregon graduate travelled to Baltimore for the Olympic Team tryouts and was picked to represent the U.S.A. at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. A fireballing right-hander with a reputation for wildness, Sayles was the pitcher for the Weltmeister (German for “World Champions”) team. He faced off against another team made of fellow Americans called “Olympics.” In front of over 100,000 spectators Sayles gave up 11 hits and 5 runs but held for 7 innings to be the winning pitcher after Les McNeece hit the game winning home run. Despite being a popular exhibition, baseball failed to catch on as an Olympic sport. Bill Sayles returned to the United Stated and was signed by the Boston Red Sox. He went on to play for Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers. He later became a scout for the Cardinals and died in Lincoln City, Oregon in 1996.

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