Congratulations to the South Korean national baseball team for beating Cuba and taking the gold medal in the Olympics. Beijing was the last appearance for baseball in the Games, barring a reinstatement. Don't hold your breath -- the International Olympic Committee is dominated by Europeans with a low regard for baseball. They see baseball as a sport with little international participation.
The reality is that baseball is played in four continents, none of which is Europe. So the same decision making process that brought the Olympics to Nazi Germany, Communist Russia and Communist China now passes judgment on baseball.
The one valid reason, however, for excluding baseball from the Olympics: the best players don't participate. Look at the U.S. squad that won the bronze -- none are major league-caliber talent. Participation makes the World Baseball Classic much more compelling. The defending champion Japanese will host the 2009 WBC, starting next March 5.
Still, I can't resist the opportunity to tell the elitists in the IOC how wrong they are about baseball. Baseball leagues thrive worldwide and players from 16 nations are represented in the major leagues. Add one to the total if you count Puerto Rico as a country, like the Olympics do. It's impossible to field a fantasy squad without international players. It's even difficult to field a good fantasy team without a Dominican or two.
Let's take a look at the countries with significant presences in the major leagues and highlight a player or two from each that may be available in your league.
Dominican Republic(101 players, including Fernando Rodney, RP, Tigers): Once the DR was the shortstop factory, especially the town of San Pedro de Macoris. Now you can easily field an All Star team with Dominicans at nearly every position. The list is impressive: Manny Ramirez, Aramis Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, Miguel Tejada, David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero, Alfonso Soriano and Edinson Volquez, among others. Fernando Rodney had an ERA of 9.00 at the start of July. Since then he has pitched to a 3.55 ERA and has saved six games for Detroit. Rodney strikes out more than a batter an inning. Rodney is available in a dwindling number of leagues, so act fast if he's out there in yours.
Venezuela (58 players, including Ramon Hernandez, C, Orioles): Venezuela is a baseball power-house, trailing only the U.S. and the Dominican Republic in the number of major leaguers. The nation has produced great pitchers like Johan Santana and great hitters like Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen. One guy to look out for on your waiver wire is Ramon Hernandez. The 32-year-old catcher started the season slowly and was dropped in most leagues by mid-season. However, Hernandez has been hot in the second half, posting a .311 average and a .908 OPS. He is available in more than half of all leagues.
Puerto Rico (30 players, including Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals): The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has produced excellent baseball talent for decades. Some of today's stars include Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and Ivan Rodriguez. Yadier Molina is having a better season than big brother Bengie Molina. It doesn't make any sense that a .310 hitting catcher (Yadier) is only owned in 15 percent of leagues, while Bengie (.286) is owned in all leagues.
Japan (15 players, including Hiroki Kuroda, SP, Dodgers): Pitchers used to comprise the majority of Japanese players in MLB, but no longer. Nine of the 15 Japanese are position players. Most notably, Ichiro Suzuki is on his way to another 200 hit season. One Japanese pitcher to look for on your free agent wire is Kuroda. He is available in 75 percent of fantasy leagues. Kuroda has a 3.87 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP, but has only a 7-9 record to show for it. The Dodgers have given him little run support lately.
Mexico (12 players, including Oliver Perez, SP, Mets): The Mexican major leaguers are predominately hurlers; 11 of the 12 Mexicans are pitchers. Perez aggravated many fantasy owners with his early season struggles, but he has been excellent in the second half. He has a 2.76 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP and a strikeout-per-inning since the All Star break. Perez is pitching for a new contract, so his timing is perfect.
Cuba (9 players, including Yunel Escobar, SS, Braves): Of the nine Cubans on major league rosters, three are middle infielders and six are pitchers. Infielders Escobar and Alexei Ramirez are two of the better talents. Ramirez has hit with surprising power (15 HR and a .503 slugging). Ramirez has been hot lately as well, hitting 6 HR in the month of August. Escobar's average is down from last season, but a .287 average puts him on 87 percent of fantasy rosters.
Panama (5 players, including, Manuel Corpas, RP, Rockies): As fellow Panamanian, Mariano Rivera, has one of his best seasons, Corpas flies low under the radar. Corpas is a nice find for leagues that use setup men. Throw out his first half stats and he has been as dominant as Rivera: a 1.35 ERA, a 0.90 WHIP.
South Korea (3 players, including Chan Ho Park, RP, Dodgers): In 1994 Park became the first Korean-born player in MLB history. His career took a turn for the worse when he left the Dodgers for Texas in '02. The 35-year old has had a surprising resurgence now that he is back in Los Angeles. Park has pitched very effectively as a setup man, with a 2.67 ERA in 84.1 innings. He is a useful pickup in leagues that require middle-men.
Canada (16 players, including Joey Votto, 1B, Reds): Votto's ownership dropped when he was out on bereavement leave. Votto (.290 with 15 HR) is available in about 40 percent of leagues.
Australia (3 players, including Grant Balfour, RP, Rays): Balfour has shared closing duties with Dan Wheeler since Troy Percival went on the disabled list. Balfour has ludicrous stats: 1.47 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP and 62 strikeouts in 43 innings. Balfour is a must-have in any league that uses setup men. He has 10 holds and four saves.
France: No interest in baseball, but they did win a gold medal in team handball in Beijing. Now that's a sport with international appeal! Just look at all the fantasy handball leagues starting up.
Russia: A disappointing showing in the shooting events in Beijing -- only four medals and none were gold. China: With the world watching, would China treat dissidents better and allow some freedom of expression? No.
International Olympic Committee: Why is trampoline an Olympic sport, but baseball isn't? What's the replacement for baseball? Twister? Monopoly? Mario Kart?