I know that we’re all still adjusting to how the baseball world looks after the wild Trade Deadline, but in case you haven’t noticed … the Olympics are on! There’s even baseball!
Baseball and the Olympics have a long history, with the first-ever baseball demonstration at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. It was a demonstration sport for many years after that but not officially an Olympic sport until ‘92. It went back to being a demonstration (or exhibition, if you like that more) until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with teams that feature several recognizable MLB names, including José Bautista (Dominican Republic), Adrián González (Mexico) and Todd Frazier (United States).
So with that in mind, let’s look at one Olympic standout from every team. Only two of the men on this list played professional baseball and was an Olympian in a sport other than baseball … and one of them is actually playing baseball this year.
And, sorry, we’re not counting that famous 1984 team that featured Mark McGwire, Will Clark and Barry Larkin, because it was not a medal sport that year. It’s still cool that you had those baseball cards, though.
In case you are wondering, the gold-medal winners in Olympic baseball are as follows:
2008: South Korea
Blue Jays: Bautista, OF, 2020 Tokyo
Years with Blue Jays: 2008-17
We’re not sure of the unwritten rules for the Olympics, but it sure would be awesome if Bautista unleashed a monster bat flip for the Dominican Republic team this year.
Orioles: Nick Markakis, OF, 2004 Athens
Years with Orioles: 2006-14
Two years before he’d make his debut with the Orioles in 2006, Markakis played for Team Greece. He might have played again this year after retiring, but, alas, Greece did not qualify.
Rays: Shane Baz, RHP, 2020 Tokyo
Years with Rays: 2018-present
One of the top Rays pitching prospects — and there are a lot — Baz, famously the third side of the Chris Archer trade with the Pirates, will be taking the hill for Team USA in Tokyo.
Red Sox: Jason Varitek, C, 1992 Barcelona
Years with Red Sox: 1997-2011
Varitek was actually teammates with future Red Sox buddy Nomar Garciaparra on this team, back when Varitek was the best player in all of college baseball.
Yankees: Orlando Hernández, RHP, 1992 Barcelona
Years with Yankees: 1998-2004
Years before he was a World Series hero with the Yankees, he was an Olympic hero for Cuba, winning the gold medal in the first-ever official baseball appearance at the Olympic Games.
Cleveland: Matt LaPorta, 1B, 2008 Beijing
Years with Cleveland: 2009-12
Remember when everyone thought LaPorta was the best young power-hitting prospect in the Majors? (He was the centerpiece of the CC Sabathia trade with Milwaukee!) He had two homers in this Olympics, including one in the bronze medal game.
Royals: Bubba Starling, OF, 2020 Tokyo
Years with Royals: 2011-present
All right, so perhaps Starling is not going to become the superstar the Royals imagined he would be when they drafted him in the first round way back in 2011. But a gold medal (if he can win one) would be an impressive thing to flash around the clubhouse.
Tigers: A.J. Hinch, C, 1996 Atlanta
Years with Tigers: 2003 (player), 2021 (manager)
Way, way back, when Hinch was an exciting young catching prospect, he represented the United States at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium just a year before it was demolished to make room for Turner Field, which had been built just for the Olympics.
Twins: Jacque Jones, OF, 1996 Atlanta
Years with Twins: 1999-2005
The Twins drafted Jones just one month before the Atlanta Games, and he’d still be with the organization nearly a decade later.
White Sox: Jose Contreras, RHP, 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney
Years with White Sox: 2004-09
Contreras was an absolute star for the Cuban national team, winning a gold medal in 1996 and a silver in 2000. (He also won a gold at the Pan Am Games in 1999.) Don’t forget that World Series trophy in 2006, either.
Angels: Troy Glaus, 3B, 1996 Atlanta
Years with Angels: 1998-2004
He’d make his MLB debut just two years after the Games. (You can go with Mike Scioscia – who is managing the U.S. team this year — here as well if you’d like.)
A’s: Nick Allen, IF, 2020 Tokyo
Years with A’s: 2017-present
The utility prospect could be one of the key players for Team USA … and could still get a September callup from the big club.
Astros: Roy Oswalt, RHP, 2000 Sydney
Years with Astros: 2001-10
Oswalt was just about to reach the majors when he won gold with Team USA in Australia: He’d finish fifth in NL Cy Young Award voting, and second in NL Rookie of the Year Award voting, the very next season.
Mariners: Jim Lefebvre, manager, 2008 Beijing
Years with Mariners: 1989-91
The Mariners’ manager right before things started getting good had the perhaps unenviable job of managing the Chinese national team for the 2008 Beijing Games. (They went 1-6.)
Rangers: Rick Helling, RHP, 1992 Barcelona
Years with Rangers: 1994-96, 1997-2001
Another player drafted just before the Olympics began, Helling was one of the best pitchers on the first official appearance by Team USA in the Olympics. (They did not medal, though.)
Braves: Nigel Talton (“The Freeze”)
Years with Braves: 2012-present
OK, fine, The Freeze has never actually made the Olympics. But you should know that he has been very close.
Marlins: Eddy Alvarez, OF, 2014 Sochi and 2020 Tokyo
Years with Marlins: 2020-present
One of the best stories of this Olympics, Alvarez won a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Games in short-track speed skating … and is now trying to win a gold in Tokyo in baseball.
Mets: R.A. Dickey, RHP, 1996 Atlanta
Years with Mets: 2010-12
Back before he even threw a knuckleball, Dickey represented his country as an exciting young pitching prospect. Somehow, 16 years later, he would win an NL Cy Young Award.
Nationals: Stephen Strasburg, RHP, 2008 Beijing
Years with Nationals: 2010-present
Strasburg pitched the pivotal semifinal game in the 2008 Games and was shelled by the Cuban team, which won, 10-2. He still ended up with a bronze medal.
Phillies: David Robertson, RHP, 2020 Tokyo
Years with Phillies: 2019-2020
The Phillies paid Robertson $23 million to throw a total of 6 2/3 innings for them over the course of two years of his contract. He now will try to throw close to that many for Team USA.
Cardinals: Jason Simontacchi, RHP, 2000 Sydney
Years with Cardinals: 2002-04
Simontacchi, who is currently a pitching coach in the Royals’ organization, pitched for Italy in 2000, and he was fantastic, giving up just two runs in 15 1/3 innings.
Cubs: Kosuke Fukudome, OF, 1996 Atlanta, 2004 Athens
Years with Cubs: 2008-11
One of the most heralded Japanese players in MLB history, Fukudome won two medals: A silver in 1996 and a bronze in 2004.
Pirates: Kris Benson, RHP, 1996 Atlanta
Years with Pirates: 1999-2000, 2002-04
Known as “The Messiah” by his 1996 Atlanta teammates, Benson was a hugely hyped prospect who went No. 1 overall in the Draft in that Olympics year. He turned out to be … just fine in the bigs.
Reds: Mark Kolozsvary, C, 2020 Tokyo
Years with Reds: 2015-present
He hasn’t quite made it to the big league club yet after rattling around the Reds system for several years now, but he might be the starting catcher for Team USA.
D-backs: Travis Lee, 1B, 1996 Atlanta
Years with D-backs: 1998-2000
Lee has some fun trivia to him: He has an Olympic Medal (a bronze) and the first homer in D-backs history.
Dodgers: Tommy Lasorda, manager, 2000 Sydney
Years with Dodgers: 1973-96
Lasorda remains the only man to manage a team to both a gold medal and a World Series title … though Scioscia will try to match him this year.
Giants: Jim Thorpe, OF, 1912 Stockholm
Years with Giants: 1913-19
One of two men on this list to play professional baseball but compete in the Olympics in another sport, Thorpe was just a career .252 hitter.
Padres: Yu Darvish, RHP, 2008 Beijing
Years with Padres: 2021
More than a decade before he’d make his MLB debut, Darvish pitched well for a Japan team that did not in fact make the medal round.
Rockies: Dexter Fowler, OF, 2008 Beijing
Years with Rockies: 2008-13
Fowler was the player who scored the extra-inning run that eventually gave Team USA its bronze medal over Cuba.