Away Games: Baseball Goes Abroad
Like the game itself, baseball as diplomacy and goodwill has been hit or miss. In a glitzy, six-month global barnstorming blitz that encompassed Pacific islands, the pyramids, and Paris, Albert G. Spalding’s major league “All-American Tourists” momentarily intrigued its foreign hosts in 1889 but had no lasting effect. Meanwhile, Christian missionaries, railroad engineers, and university professors were among those most responsible for introducing baseball to Asia, launching a flurry of cross-cultural enterprises capped off with Babe Ruth headlining a tremendously successful 1934 tour of Japan. In the Western Hemisphere, Cuban ball players studying in the U.S. during the 1860s took baseball home to their native land, which in turn exported the sport to other Latin American countries. A surge of Latin American players in the 1960s characterized the changing demographics of the major leagues. A “complete flop” when it appeared at the Olympic Games in 1936, baseball eventually became an official Olympic sport from 1992–2008. Like softball, it will return to the Games in 2020.