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08/16/2004 Archived Entry: "Olympic Baseball"
by Max Blue
by Max Blue
In the July, 2004 issue of One More Inning, Herb Rogoff’s classy baseball magazine, we learn that the first record of baseball being played in the Olympics was in 1912 in Stockholm. It was apparently a one game event, probably a choose-up between athletes there to perform in other events. And so it went every four years until 1936. For the Berlin games that year the Olympic Committee invited countries to send teams for a baseball competition. The United States was the only country to send a team and ended up playing an intra-squad game witnessed by 125,000 people. It’s a great story, beautifully told in Herb Rogoff’s One More Inning.
Baseball was scheduled to become an Olympic sport at the 1940 games in Japan. Forget about it.
In the 1952 Helsinki games a pick up team of Americans from the Olympic Village trounced the Finland champions 17-1 before 4,000 spectators.
In 1956 at Melbourne the U.S. Far East Command put together a team that beat Australia 11-5 in front of 100,000 people.
At the 1964 Olympic games in Tokyo another baseball exhibition game was played and won by the U.S., 6-2 over Japan.
Montreal 1976. They built a $500 million stadium for Olympic baseball that in 2004 is still called Olympic Stadium. The Expos played their first game there on April 15, 1977 before 57,592 excited people. In 2004 the stadium is considered a terrible place to play ball; these days the Expos split their home games between there and Puerto Rico.
The first Olympic baseball tournament was held at the Los Angeles games in 1984 though baseball was still not an official Olympic sport. That came eight years later at the Barcelona games. Medals were awarded at Los Angeles and the U.S. looked like a cinch to win the gold with guys like Will Clark, Barry Larkin, and Mark McGuire on the roster. As good as the U.S. team was they couldn’t beat Japan in the gold medal game, losing 6-3.
In 1988 baseball was promoted to demonstration sport status at Seoul. The U.S. took the gold with a 5-3 win over Japan when Tino Martinez slugged a pair of two-run homers and Jim Abbott threw a complete game.
Barcelona -1992 – Baseball becomes an official Olympic sport. And the Oympic format is set – a round-robin where all the teams get to play each other just for the fun of it, followed by a one-loss-and-you’re-out medal round. U.S. roster – William Adams, Robert Alkire, Darren Dreifort, Anthony Garciaparra (you might know him as Nomar), Jason Giambi, Richard Greene, Jeffrey Hammonds, Rick Helling, Charles Johnson, Darren Kirkreit, Chad McConnell, Calvin Murray, Phil Nevin, Chris Roberts, Michael Tucker, Jason Varitek, Ron Villone, Billy Wallace, Chris Wimmer, Craig Wilson.
In the round-robin the U.S. beats Spain 4-1, Chinese Taipei 10-9, Puerto Rico 8-2, and Domican Republic 10-0, but loses to Cuba 9-6, and to Japan 7-1. In the medal round they lose to Cuba 6-1 and to Japan 8-3. Cuba gets the gold beating Chinese Taipei who get the silver. Japan takes the bronze and the U.S. gets to go home without a medal.
Atlanta – 1996. We’ll get ‘em this time. It’s our game and it’s our country. The U.S. Post Office prints a commemorative stamp. The first day cover April 3, 1992 is signed by former LA Dodger players Steve Yeager and Maury Wills, Dodger president Peter O’Malley, International Baseball Association President Bob Smith, stamp artist Tony DeLuz, major league umpire Ron Luciano, and Little League International president Creighton Hale. The U.S. Mint gets in the act with a commemorative silver dollar featuring a likeness of Nolan Ryan delivering a pitch. It became known as the Nolan Ryan dollar. The U.S. has some nice players on the roster: Chad Allen, Kris Benson, Robert Dickey, Troy Glaus, Chad Green, Seth Greisinger, Kip Harkrider, Andrew Hinch, Jacque Jones, Billy Koch, Mark Kotsay, Matthew LeCroy, Travis Lee, Braden Looper, Brian Lloyd, Warren Morris, Octavio Ojeda, Jim Parque, Jeff Weaver, Jason Williams.
A nice team, but no match for the Cubans who again take the gold beating Japan 13-9. The U.S. gets the bronze with a 10-3 win over Nicaragua.
Sydney – 2000. Cuba had won 21 straight games in Olympic competition since 1992 before the Netherlands ambushed them 4-2 in the round-robin round. Later in the round Cuba beat the U.S. 6-1. But in the showdown for the gold Ben Sheets fired a three-hit shutout in a 4-0 U.S. win to end the Cuban Olympic dynasty. U.S. manager Tommy Lasorda called it “the greatest moment of my life.”
Here is the roster of the U.S. 2000 Olympic baseball champions: Pitchers- Kurt Ainsworth, Ryan Franklin, Chris George, Shane Heams, Rick Krivda, Roy Ostwalt, Jon Rauch, Bobby Seay, Ben Sheets, Todd Williams, Tim Young. Catchers – Pat Borders, Marcus Jensen, Mike Kinkade. Infielders – Brent Abernathy, Sean Burroughs, John Cotton, Gookie Dawkins, Adam Everett, Doug Mientkiewicz. Outfielders – Mike Neill, Anthony Sanders, Brad Wilkerson, Ernie Young.
Athens – 2004. The roster for the defending Olympic gold medal baseball team:
Pitchers – Brian Bruney, Jesse Crain, Justin Duchscherer, J.D. Durbin, John Grabow, Ryan Madsen, Horacio Ramirez, Royce Ring, Jason Stanford, John Van Benschoten, Todd Williams. Catchers – Gerald Laird, Joe Mauer. Infielders – Chris Burke, J.J. Hardy, Graham Koonce, Mike Lamb, Justin Leone, Mike Rouse. Outfielders – Gabe Gross, Matt Holliday, Jeremy Reed, Grady Sizemore.
MEXICO ELIMINATES TEAM USA
by Eric Edwards
November 8, 2003 Panama City, Panama – The Olympic baseball champions will
not get a chance to defend their title. Former big league pitcher Rigo Beltran and two relievers shut down Team USA’s offense, and Luis A. Garcia (Indians) hit a tiebreaking home run in the ninth inning as Mexico pulled off the shock of the Olympic qualifier Friday, eliminating Team USA from the tournament 2-1.
USA manager Frank Robinson said, “That was a very well pitched game, a great relief job turned in. They exploited our weakness, which is hitting off speed stuff.”
Yes but Frank, why did you give up Joe Mauer to a sacrifice bunt with the tieing run at second and the winning run at first in the bottom of the ninth? Joe Mauer is six feet four inches tall, 220 pounds, with a cobra-quick lefthanded stroke. Mauer was Minor League Player of the Year in 2003 and here in July, 2004 he is batting .340 out of the cleanup spot for the AL Central leading Minnesota Twins.
But that’s just second guessing. Right, Robbie?
“I can’t believe it,” said Tommy Lasorda.
Believe it, Tommy. The 2004 Olympic Baseball Tournament opened yesterday August 15 at the Hellinikon Olympic Complex in Athens, Greece. The gold medal game is scheduled for August 25. Eight teams will compete – Japan, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Canada, Greece, the Netherlands, Italy, and Australia. Tickets can be ordered online, $250 each.
There is hope that the 2012 Olympic Baseball Tournament will be held at Yankee Stadium in New York. It is also hoped by Tommy Lasorda that Team USA will qualify.