When baseball made a cameo at the Berlin Olympics



This excerpt comes from the new book "Games of deception: The True Story of the First American Basketball Olympic Team at the 1936 Olympic Games in Hitler's Germany. "

Two teams of dark American amateur baseball players from college and club teams played a seven exhibition game on 12 with a four-inch-wide white tape on the lawn of the Olympic Stadium, which serves as a foul line, and a soccer goal, which served as a backstop behind the house brand August 1936, which was invited by German Olympic officials to demonstrate their sport. It turned out that basketball was not the only American pastime that was introduced to the Germans in Berlin in summer 36.

At a time when the mighty New Yorker Yankees were at the top of Major League Baseball with an average of 12,687 spectators, this insignificant game attracted almost ten times as many fans, 110,000, and thus the most who ever played a baseball game at the time Have seen history.

That was an amazing feat considering that baseball wasn't played in Germany and only the players and American sports journalists in the press box knew what was going on.

Before the game, the German crowd cheered warmly as the Americans took to the grass roots and greeted the fans with a Hitler salute, an awkward moment for Brooklyn's Herman Goldberg, a catcher, and the only Jewish member of either baseball team. It was just one of many such moments for Goldberg. He ducked at a magazine in his dormitory that contained photos of Hitler and Goebbels. And one day he and the Jewish-American track star Marty Glickman hitchhiked to Berlin when they were picked up by a pair of German soldiers. Halfway through, one of the Germans asked Glickman and Goldberg to present their passports; They had heard Goldberg slip and use a Yiddish word when they tried to communicate in broken German. While the soldiers were examining the American roadside documents, Goldberg listened nervously as the Nazis discussed the fact that the two athletes from the United States were Jews. But then relief. The soldiers asked for autographs.

And now Goldberg crouched behind the plate to see the greatest baseball spectacle the world had ever seen in the light of the Olympic Stadium.

This was remarkable for two reasons. First, night games were a rarity in the US, as the Cincinnati Reds had played the first league night game just a year earlier. Second, even for a baseball game, the lights weren't properly positioned, illuminating the action at a height of only 50 feet. Fly balls disappeared in the dark.

For the German fans, the baseballs and the game would have disappeared into the night just as well and would never come back. The spectators were, as an American sports journalist said, "unbearably bored" by the game.

Thousands of fans hadn't noticed that the game had started and thought the players were still warming up. There was more applause for pop-ups than basic hits. The fans discussed whether the catcher was "neutral" or played for one or the other team.

They laughed at the way the referee called out balls and punches. But without understanding the rules of the game, even this level of fun only lasted so long.

Thousands of fans went to the exits in the third inning. The fourth became a rush; there were only a few thousand stragglers left. "And so a competition that attracted the largest crowd in history was held," the New York Herald complained, "for the most colossal indifference a baseball game has ever known."

Finally, the audience let out a wild cheer. Nothing had happened in the game and the American ball players didn't know why. The announcer had said in German that the game was almost over.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @ trublu24.