That was THEN This is NOW

The '84 U.S. Olympic team had a heap of talent. Just look where its alumni are in '88
April 03, 1988

On July 6, 1984, the first U.S. Olympic baseball team to be assembled in 20 years met the Boston Park League All-Stars in an exhibition game at Fenway Park. One of the Olympians, Will Clark, 20, smashed three home runs; another, Cory Snyder, 21, hit a towering shot into the leftfield screen; and a third, Mark McGwire, 20, launched so prodigious a blast to centerfield that Reggie Jackson, then a member of the California Angels, who happened to be in the stands, still describes it with awe. Also watching the 17-2 blowout by the Olympic team were Dan Duquette, then the assistant for scouting and player development for the Milwaukee Brewers, and one of his scouts, Tom Bourque. They wondered aloud whether this group of baby-faced ball bashers might be better than a typical major league expansion team. Duquette and Bourque reached a quick accord. Yes, these kids were spectacular, the finest collection of amateur talent ever assembled.

Today that team's alumni are starting to treat major league competition as roughly as they did those semipros from Boston. Eighteen of the 20 Olympians were, or would be, first-round draft picks; 13 will probably start this season on major league rosters. Without doubt, sometime early in the 21st century, at least two or three will have their likenesses hung in the Hall of Fame. Last year 10 of the erstwhile Olympic players, led by Clark and McGwire (page 44), were big league regulars in just their third year of pro ball. The seven position players in that group collectively averaged .267 with 22 homers and 68 RBIs; the three starting pitchers averaged 10 wins and 8 losses, with a 4.40 ERA and 109 strikeouts.

Baseball had not been part of an Olympics since the Tokyo Games of 1964. Then, as in four previous Olympics, only a single game was played as a kind of diversion for the curious. In Los Angeles, baseball was a full-blown demonstration sport for the first time; eight teams played a 16-game tournament in Dodger Stadium. It will become a full-fledged Olympic sport in 1992.

Beyond enjoying the glory of the L.A. Games, the U.S. players gained a worldly wisdom that steeled them for the pros. On a 38-day barnstorming tour before the Olympics, the team experienced media crushes, packed houses and a bone-wearying itinerary that would make a typical minor league road trip seem as arduous as a home run trot. Before any of them ever played a game for pay, the Olympians had suited up in 13 major league parks and played against high minor league competition. The 15 college juniors and seniors on the team appeared in their own line of Topps baseball cards. The players also learned how to win in big-time competition—they went 27-4-1 during the pre-Olympic tour and won their first four games in the tournament—and how to lose. Japan beat them 6-3 in the one-game championship in L.A.

Now those Olympians constitute a subculture in the pros. While McGwire, Clark and Snyder have gone the farthest the fastest, others are swiftly moving up. Only one, Flavio Alfaro, the starting Olympic second baseman, has left baseball behind; he's now an executive in an auto parts firm in Houston. Here's a look at how some of those Olympic players are doing a quadrennium later.

The Semi-Sleeper. As righthanded pitcher Mike Dunne, one of 30 survivors from 75 tryout sites around the country, reached the U.S. team's camp in Louisville, he might have appeared to be out of his league. After all, he was in the company of John Hoover of Fresno State, Baseball America's 1984 College Pitcher of the Year; flame-throwing Bobby Witt of Oklahoma; North Carolina's Scott Bankhead, who pitched with the control of a 10-year vet; and Billy Swift of Maine, whom the Seattle Mariners had already chosen with the second pick in the June 1984 draft.

Though Dunne had been chosen seventh, by the St. Louis Cardinals, he still saw himself as the kid who hadn't been drafted at all out of high school back in Bartonville, Ill., and who had had trouble getting anyone out for Bradley University until his junior year, when he learned to mix a slider into his pitching repertoire. "I was from a small private college, and I had had no international exposure," he says. "The talent on the Olympic team was incredible. I didn't feel like I had a chance to be one of the players to be chosen." But pitching coach John Scolinos was looking for pitchers who could keep their cool, and that was one part of the game the introverted Dunne had down cold. "He taught us to always be in control," Dunne says. "When the catcher calls time, let him come to you. Never leave the mound."

Last season when Dunne left the mound it was usually with a win. After being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the deal that sent Tony Pena to St. Louis, Dunne went 13-6 with a 3.03 ERA and was named the National League's Rookie Pitcher of the Year. He also earned the nickname Iceman from catcher Mike Diaz. "Dave Parker could be up there swinging out of his butt and snarling, and to look at Mike you wouldn't know if he just threw a strike or a ball in the dirt," Diaz says.

The Equalizer. On the pre-Olympic tour, which encompassed 32 games in 31 cities in 38 days, some egos were bound to be rubbed raw. Sure, the Olympians would cry "Pillage the village" as they entered a town and sing MacNamara's Band after conquering it. But harmony can become hard to sustain after all of those 5 a.m. wakeup calls, airport check-ins, banquets, games, press conferences and, of course, nocturnal forays. If, however, in his sleeplessness, one of the young hotshots became a touch cocky or cranky, along came John Marzano.

"John was a great catcher, but he was also great to have on the team to keep everybody loose," says Bankhead. "If anybody got out of line, John was there to get on them." Marzano, whom the Boston Red Sox chose out of Temple with the 14th pick of the June 1984 draft, developed his knack for knocking guys in South Philadelphia. "All my friends are always busting on each other," he says. "The guys on the team started to do it to me. They just weren't as good." Marzano got on Snyder for his persnickety grooming habits, asked balding coach Dave Bingham to lower his head for use as a TV screen and even rode head coach Rod Dedeaux, then 69, about his "maturity."

Marzano never let up on his teammates, and he didn't let them down either: He batted .394, second to Clark's .397, during the tour and the Games. On the Red Sox this season, Rich Gedman will catch most of the pitches while Marzano catches most of the flak. "These guys kill me about the Olympics," Marzano says. "Wade Boggs says if I turn my back on the Olympic equipment bag I still use, he's going to burn it. And this spring, when we played a Japanese team in an exhibition game, they said I wasn't allowed to play because I didn't know how to beat them. But that Olympic team was the most fun I had playing ball. We were like a family."

The Young and Occasionally Restless. The 1985 free-agent draft may have yielded the best crop of first-round picks ever. The five Olympic underclass-men were the first, second, third, fourth and 10th choices. Clark (pick No. 2) has led the youth movement into the majors, but this season some of his classmates may catch up. B.J. Surhoff (No. 1), who often played the outfield for the Olympians but replaced Marzano behind the plate whenever Surhoff's Tar Heel teammate Bankhead pitched, will probably start a long string of All-Star appearances this season as the Brewers' backstop. Witt (No. 3), a two-year veteran of the Texas Rangers' rotation, has already become an irresistible force—he allowed an American League low of 7.17 hits per game in '87—though he can make the plate seem like a movable object, having led the league with 140 walks.

Barry Larkin (No. 4) will play shortstop and bat lead-off for the Cincinnati Reds, giving him an opportunity for stardom that he never got with the Olympic team. Back then he was a utilityman behind Alfaro and Gary Green, who had a cup of coffee with the San Diego Padres. Larkin is still irked about his role as an Olympian. "I guess it was a learning experience," he says. "Call it humility." So taught, Larkin still had trouble returning to Michigan for his junior year. "After the Olympics, I thought. Shoot, let's get going," he says.

Chris Gwynn (No. 10), the kid brother of Padre star Tony, is getting a lesson in mathematics from the Los Angeles Dodgers. As they add free-agent outfielders, Gwynn's chances lessen. "When I get that moment to put up some numbers," Chris vows, "I'm going to take advantage of it."

The Ace. In the Olympic finale against Japan on Aug. 7, Dedeaux gave his No. 1 starter the ball. With a big leaguer's curve and a bulldog's tenacity, Hoover had set NCAA career records for complete games in a season (19) and a career (42). "I didn't blow anybody away," he says, "but I could pitch a little bit." The Baltimore Orioles made him their top choice (25th overall) in the 1984 draft and offered him a signing bonus of about $60,000. But Hoover held out for the $100,000-plus he knew his fellow first-rounders on the Olympic team got. In the U.S. team's Olympic opener, he beat Chinese Taipei 2-1; the next day the Orioles upped their offer to six figures.

On the hill for the gold before 55,235 fans, Hoover hung an eighth-inning curve to Katsumi Hirosawa, who belted a three-run homer to put Japan ahead 6-1. The Olympic experience took a toll on Hoover's right arm: In an 18-month period beginning with his junior season at Fresno State and ending after his first pro season at Triple A Rochester, he threw more than 400 innings. His fastball slowed slightly, and he slipped to Class AA, then to Class A, before winding up back in AA last year.

Hoover, now 25, tried to make the Montreal Expos this spring. Sitting in front of his locker, squirting tobacco juice into a cup, he was optimistic. "There are dreams you grow up with—your first major league win, pitching in an All-Star Game or World Series," he said. "Those are still dreams to me. But another dream came true in the middle of it all, and that one will never be beat. If I had to do it again, even if I knew it would give me problems, I wouldn't hesitate. I enjoyed every second of that Olympic team." Montreal sent Hoover to the minors in March.

Most of the Olympians, even Clark and McGwire, won't reach their prime for another quadrennium. Pat Pacillo, who's now with the Reds, speaks for a lot of his Olympic teammates and perhaps for some baseball fans when he muses from time to time. "If only we could put that team back together...."

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0LYMPICS 1987

PLAYERS

Avg.

G

AB

H

HR

RBI

TEAM

Avg.

G

AB

H

HR

RBI

Flavio Alfaro 2B

.389

5

18

7

0

3

NONE

BobCaffreyC/DH

.250

2

4

1

0

1

W. Palm/Burl.

.242

131

492

119

20

72

Will Clark DH/OF

.429

5

21

9

3

8

GIANTS

.308

150

529

163

35

91

Gary Green SS

.263

5

19

5

0

0

Las Vegas

.237

111

337

80

1

32

Chris Gwynn OF

.154

5

13

2

0

1

DODGERS

.219

17

32

7

0

2

Barry Larkin 2B/0F

.143

3

7

1

0

1

REDS

.244

125

439

107

12

43

Shane Mack OF

.313

5

16

5

2

3

PADRES

.239

105

238

57

4

25

John Marzano C

.333

4

12

4

1

4

RED SOX

.244

52

168

41

5

24

Oddibe McDowell OF

.263

5

19

5

3

7

RANGERS

.241

128

407

98

14

52

Mark McGwire 1B

.190

5

21

4

0

0

ATHLETICS

.289

151

557

161

49

118

Cory Snyder3B

.400

5

20

8

2

7

INDIANS

.236

157

577

136

33

82

B.J.Surhoff C

.375

3

8

3

0

2

BREWERS

.299

115

395

118

7

68

PITCHERS

G

IP

W-L

ERA

BB

SO

G

IP

W-L

ERA

BB

SO

Sid Akins

2

2.1

0-0

0.00

1

1

Dur./Greenville

46

108.2

6-6

2.57

23

94

Don August

3

6.1

1-0

0.00

0

3

Denver

28

179.1

10-9

5.57

55

91

Scott Bankhead

2

9.2

1-0

0.93

1

6

MARINERS

27

149.1

9-8

5.42

37

95

Mike Dunne

1

2.0

0-0

0.00

2

4

PIRATES

23

163.1

13-6

3.03

68

72

John Hoover

2

16.2

1-1

3.24

6

8

Charlotte

22

140.0

9-8

4.56

51

100

Pat Pacillo

1

1.0

0-0

0.00

1

1

REDS

12

39.2

3-3

6.13

19

23

Billy Swift

1

6.0

1-0

0.00

0

4

Calgary

5

18.1

0-0

8.84

13

5

Bobby Witt

1

1.0

0-0

0.00

1

1

RANGERS

26

143.0

8-10

4.91

140

160

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)