Nick Wass
August 08, 2016

Baseball is returning to the Olympics in 2020. The question now is who will be playing.

With the Summer Games falling in the middle of the major league season, the sport has never been able to produce the kind of best-against-best spectacle that Olympic hockey and basketball have. But even if that remains the case, there will undoubtedly be some big names taking the field at the Tokyo Games.

It just might take a few years before baseball fans really know them.

Baseball was a full medal event at the Olympics from 1992-2008, and it was a demonstration sport before that. In 1984, Japan won the gold medal game, beating a U.S. team that included Mark McGwire and Will Clark - both of whom were a couple years away from their big league debuts. At the Seoul Olympics in 1988, the Americans avenged that loss when Jim Abbott beat Japan in the title game.

Here's a brief chronology of Olympic baseball since it became a medal sport in 1992:

Barcelona (1992): Jason Giambi and Nomar Garciaparra were part of this U.S. team, but the Americans were drubbed by Japan and Cuba and failed to win a medal. The Omar Linares-led Cubans took the gold.

Atlanta (1996): Home-field advantage only meant so much for the U.S., which lost 11-2 to Japan in the semifinals and had to settle for bronze. Cuba beat Japan 13-9 for the gold, with Linares hitting three homers in the title game.

Sydney (2000): Cuba's Olympic dynasty was finally upended when the U.S. knocked off the two-time defending champions 4-0 to win the gold. Professionals were allowed in the Olympic tournament for the first time, but the conflict with the major league schedule meant the Americans still had a relatively unheralded roster. With Tommy Lasorda managing, Ben Sheets allowed one earned run in 22 innings, and his three-hitter in the final gave the U.S. the title.

Athens (2004): The U.S. didn't even make it to the Olympics to defend its title. The Americans were eliminated in qualifying, and the gold medal went back to Cuba, which beat upstart Australia in the final. The Aussies had upset Daisuke Matsuzaka and Japan in the semifinals.

Beijing (2008): The last Olympic baseball tournament for a while ended in dramatic fashion, when Cuba's Yulieski Gurriel - who signed a $47.5 million, five-year contract with Houston last month - hit into a double play with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. South Korea held on for a 3-2 win and the gold.

There were plenty of future major leaguers playing in the '08 Summer Games. Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched for the champion South Koreans, and the bronze medal-winning Americans had Stephen Strasburg and Jake Arrieta.

Japan failed to medal despite having Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka and Norichika Aoki.

Here are a few developments from around baseball this past week:

STANDING ALONE

Alex Rodriguez is set to play his final game for the New York Yankees on Friday, and David Ortiz has announced he'll retire at season's end. If those two are indeed done after this year, then Albert Pujols will be the only remaining active member of the 500-homer club.

The 36-year-old Pujols is at 581. The closest active player below 500 home runs is Miguel Cabrera at 433.

FANTASY FOCUS

Now that the trade deadline is out of the way and players are settling in with new teams and perhaps new roles, the next big issue to watch down the stretch is innings limits. We've seen teams exercise caution with young pitchers in ways that can affect their fantasy value.

Toronto's Aaron Sanchez, the AL ERA leader, hasn't been moved to the bullpen yet, but the Blue Jays are clearly being cautious with him, using a six-man rotation. Detroit's Michael Fulmer will also be monitored carefully.

LINE OF THE WEEK

Baltimore's Manny Machado homered in the first, second and third innings, driving in seven runs in a 10-2 win over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday. That flurry of power gave the All-Star third baseman a surprisingly reasonable chance at a four-homer game, but he went hitless in his next three at-bats.

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Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

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