I’m way down the rabbit hole and figured I’d bring you along. I stumbled upon this page while revisiting an old From the Wikipedia post I once intended to make about discontinued Olympic sports after Dan Lewis’ excellent Now I Know newsletter reminded me that Tug of War was once an Olympic competition. The following was never an Olympic sport, but it was a demonstration sport at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki.
From the Wikipedia: Pesäpallo.
Pesäpallo, or Finnish baseball, was invented in the 1920s by a two-time Olympian, Finnish civil war propagandist and eugenics supporter named Tahko Pihkala.
Pesäpallo sort of seems like what would result if someone with no prior knowledge of baseball saw a couple of innings of a baseball game while hopped up on hallucinogens then returned to Finland and tried to recreate it from memory. I don’t think that’s what happened with Pihkala, it just seems that way. There are nine players on defense, three bases and home plate, and three outs in an inning.
But instead of a nine-inning tilt, the game is split into two four-inning periods. The team that scores the most in each period wins the period, then the team that wins the most periods wins the game. You don’t really see many best-of-two contests in sports because they don’t make all that much sense. But in Pesäpallo, if the game is tied at one after two periods, the teams square off in one super-inning, which is presumably exciting as sitting front row at an Apocalyptica concert.
Oh, also: The pitcher stands on home plate and throws the ball straight up in the air and the bases are aligned in a zig-zag formation. Balls hit over the fence on a fly — home runs — count as foul balls, so batters try to find holes in the defense and hit balls with elusive spin. The aggressive defensive shifting that has recently come into fashion in Major League Baseball has been the norm in pesäpallo for a long time. Each team can use up to three designated hitters per inning in addition to the nine position players in their lineup, and the designated hitters are called “jokers.” Based on what I can tell, players slide into just about every base. And there’s enough on-field celebrating to make Lastings Milledge blush.
Finland’s top pesäpallo division is called Superpesis and comprises 11 men’s teams and 10 women’s team. The last place finisher (ha!) every year is relegated to Ykköspesis. Every three years, there is a World Cup of pesäpallo, and it so happens this is a World Cup year. From October 8-13, the top pesäpallo players from Finland, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Japan and Estonia will square off in Australia for national pride.
I have spent the better part of the last hour reading about pesäpallo on the Internet and mostly I’ve just learned that I know almost nothing about Finland. I have no idea what’s going on in the following video, but I can see that it’s pretty awesome. I would definitely be down for joining an after-work social pesäpallo team if someone started a league. Looking at you, hipsters.