USA Baseball in the Olympic Games
A look back at how the U.S. fared in previous Olympic contests
June 3, 2008
|Jim Abbott celebrates after wining the gold medal in the 1988 Olympic Games. (Getty Images)
Two gold medals, a silver and a bronze -- that's Team USA's tally in Olympic baseball since the sport was introduced as a demonstration event at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles (baseball was first recognized as an "official" Olympic sport in 1992).
Under the guidance of Davey Johnson, who led the USA Baseball Professional Team to a gold medal in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament against Cuba in 2006, and again in the 2007 IBAF Baseball World Cup (again beating Cuba), Team USA will travel to Beijing, China, in hopes of captuing USA Baseball's third Olympic gold medal.
Here is a look at Team USA's past Olympic performances:
1984 -- Los Angeles, California (Silver Medal)
With a cast of college All-Americans that included Mark McGwire, Will Clark, Barry Larkin and Cory Snyder -- and led by legendary coach Rod Dedeaux -- Team USA entered the 1984 Olympics favored to win the gold. Although Team USA did indeed reach the gold medal game, they were upset by Japan in the final, 6-3.
Cuba dropped out of the competition, but the '84 Olympic games carried on. Cuba's exit opened the door for Japan, Canada and the Dominican Republic -- all of whom were invited to participate after Cuba's decision to withdraw.
Team USA featured an outstanding blend of pitching and power. Starting pitchers John Hoover, Scott Bankhead and Billy Swift, along with relievers Don August, Sid Atkins, Mike Dunne, Bobby Witt and Pat Pacillo, only allowed one earned run in the team's first 36 innings.
At the plate, Clark and Oddibe McDowell both collected three home runs heading into the gold medal game.
1988 - Seoul, South Korea (Gold Medal)
Team USA was coached by Stanford's Mark Marquess. The squad featured pitching sensation Jim Abbott from the University of Michigan, Tino Martinez from the University of Tampa, and Oklahoma State's Robin Ventura. Team USA got some revenge against Japan for the beating it suffered in the '84 games with a 5-3 win of the Japanese in the gold medal game.
Abbott served as a force from the mound while Martinez supplied much of the muscle from the plate, including a 410-foot, two-run home run to straightaway centerfield and an opposite-field solo shot in the eighth inning. In between those two blasts, Martinez also delivered an RBI single.
Abbott went the distance, and retired 11 of the final 12 batters he faced en route to the victory. It was also a personal victory for Abbott, who had spent much of his life proving he could compete at the highest level despite being born without a right hand. In the aftermath of their loss, the Japanese showed their respect for Abbott by lining up to congratulate him.
"This is my No. 1 thrill in sports," Abbott told the media during postgame interviews. "There's something to be said about winning a gold medal in a team sport."
1992 - Barcelona, Spain (4th)
In the first year that baseball was officially a medal sports in the Olympic Games, there was a great deal of confidence surrounding Team USA. They were the defending gold medal winners and had high-profile players like Jason Varitek, Jason Giambi, Nomar Garciaparra, Darren Dreifort and Phil Nevin, among others.
Team USA went 5-0 in the round-robin games, including a win over Chinese Taipei, the eventual silver medal-winners. Losses to Cuba and Japan put Team USA in the bronze medal game and in a second match-up with Japan. The U.S. trailed early and never recoverd. They lost the game and a chance at a medal, finishing fourth. Cuba captured the gold medal, leaving Barcelona undefeated with a stellar, 9-0 record.
1996 - Atlanta, Georgia (Bronze Medal)
The 1996 team may have had Team USA's most powerful lineup. The team slugged 32 home runs during the Games but struggled against Japan in the semifinals. They went on to beat Nicaragua, 10-3, to capture the bronze medal.
Team USA did have its moments in the '96 Olympics, including Home Run Derby-style victories over Japan in round-robin play (where the U.S. slugged five first-inning home runs in what turned out to be a 15-5 rout over the Japanese) and a 15-3 win over Italy in the opening round. In the game against Italy, Team USA slugged four home runs (two by Mark Kotsay) in a game shortened to seven innings because of the international 10-run rule. Three of the four longballs came in the first inning.
In the end, Cuba walked away with the gold medal and Japan left with the silver.
Longtime LSU head coach Skip Bertman, fresh off winning the 1996 College World Series with the Tigers, led the '96 Olympians.
"If we kept this team together for two or three more years, we would beat everybody -- including Cuba," he said. "If we could keep it for six years, it would win the A.L. East."
2000 - Sydney, Australia (Gold Medal)
|Ben Sheets threw a three-hit, complete-game shutout in the gold medal game against Cuba. (USA Baseball)
Nevermind that Cuba's Olympic baseball record against the United States stood at an impeccable 4-0 or that Team USA had its struggles a week earlier in the preliminaries. That didn't seem to matter when the U.S. took the field against the heavily-favored Cubans. Behind Ben Sheets' three-hit, complete game shutout performance, Team USA took a 4-0 victory and a gold medal.
Mike Neill slugged a first-inning home run to put the U.S. on the scoreboard. Ernie Young added a bases loaded single, and Team USA turned the rest of the game over to Sheets, who at one point retired 11 straight batters. With his sinker dropping to perfection, the right-hander got 16 groundball outs in the final eight innings.
The victory was especially meaningful to Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, the head coach of Team USA. Following the victory, Lasorda celebrated with with his players and said, "This is bigger than the World Series."
2008 - Beijing, China
With Davey Johnson at the helm, Team USA defeated Cuba in the gold medal game of both the Olympic Qualifying event (in Cuba) in 2006 and again in the gold medal game of the 2007 IBAF Baseball World Cup in Taiwan.
The two victories make it virtually impossible to take any teams by surprise in Beijing.
What Johnson and Team USA are working with in China will depend on who's available. Some of the key players from the World Cup have been called up to the Majors and are unavailable. There are some who have remained eligible for Olympic participation, and those players could certainly help secure the USA's first baseball gold medal in eight years. What Johnson seeks for his team is to find a righty-lefty balance from his hitters and pitchers, and to field players who can to put the ball in play and score runs.