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El Camino Coach Hicks Expects Baseball to Gain Acceptance in Olympics

August 24, 1986|DEREK RASER | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Games are long gone, but there is still an Olympic flame burning inside Tom Hicks.

Hicks, 30, baseball coach at El Camino College in Torrance, assisted the U. S. Baseball Federation in helping organize the 1984 Olympic baseball tournament, the sixth time baseball was played as a demonstration sport (1904, 1912, 1936, 1952, 1964 and 1984, when the United States and seven other countries competed at Dodger Stadium).

At the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, baseball again will be a demonstration sport, played at a stadium built for the Games. Hicks is looking forward to 1992 when, he believes, baseball will make its debut as an official Olympic event. Until then, pushing baseball into the Olympic lineup will be Hicks' squeeze play of passion.

"I believe it has a possibility of becoming a reality," Hicks said. "It's going to come down to the International Olympic Committee convincing people around the world that baseball is a tremendously popular sport."

That's easier said--especially in the baseball-crazed United States--than done.

Said Hicks: "Imagine trying to take an obscure sport from the Orient and trying to convince everybody in the world that it deserves recognition."

Although American by nature, baseball does enjoy considerable worldwide popularity. It is played in 70 countries.

When baseball was added to the Games in 1984, it was thought that if the demonstration succeeded, it would be added to the 21 official Olympic sports. Dodger Executive Vice President Fred Claire called baseball's inclusion in 1984 "the most significant step in the growth of international amateur baseball."

But baseball still had its doubters--even in 1981, when then-LAOOC President Peter Ueberroth, now the commissioner of major league baseball, said Los Angeles would be home to baseball's last chance at becoming an official sport.

Dodger Stadium attendance for Olympic baseball averaged nearly 50,000, and the two primary requirements to make it an official sport--artistic and financial success--were achieved. (Japan defeated the United States, 6-3, to win an honorary gold medal.) Even so, the sport failed to gain official status.

But Hicks, who earned his master's degree in physical education by documenting baseball's path to the 1984 Games, remains confident.

"It's being played as a demonstration sport again," Hicks said, "so it still has an opportunity. And it hasn't been denied yet, so it still has a chance of becoming official."

Its chances, in part, may depend on the U. S. Baseball Federation. The federation regulates amateur baseball and represents the United States in worldwide amateur competition. Hicks is the federation's vice president. Amateur U. S. teams, aided by the federation, compete in the Commonwealth Games, the Pan-American Games and the amateur World Baseball Championships.

For all of the federation's good intentions, however, baseball remains foreign to the Olympics.

"It comes down to whether the IOC is willing to add another official sport to the Olympic format,' Hicks said. "If they are, it comes down to whether they are willing to make baseball the next sport."

The IOC tries to limit the number of official sports to keep the Games down to a manageable number.

Efforts to have baseball accepted as an official sport were rejected by the IOC in 1982. Stating that it was too late to change Olympic schedules, the IOC said baseball will receive high priority in the future.

Will Korea be baseball's last chance?

"No, I don't think so," Hicks said. "It was a big step in 1984 to just have it as a demonstration sport."

Indeed, 1984 marked the first time baseball players marched in the opening and closing ceremonies, lived in the Olympic village and received medals.

"Maybe with a fabulous showing in Korea, it might make it," Hicks said. "It was very successful in Los Angeles. Of course, you almost expect that it would be in the United States. But if it does well in Korea, that would be a real shot in the arm for baseball.

"I would love to see it become an official sport. I think it's deserving and it would be a great step for the world of baseball."

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