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A Silver Lining : Talented '84 U.S. Baseball Team Didn't Get the Gold, but the Sport Proved to Be an International Winner

BARCELONA 1992 OLYMPICS. 3 Days to the Games

July 22, 1992|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was the original dream team.

Maybe the greatest amateur team ever.

But it didn't win.

Or did it?

"We were not only playing for ourselves, but for the guys who came after us," said Will Clark, the San Francisco Giants' first baseman, reflecting on the 1984 U.S. Olympic baseball team.

Clark was a member of that powerhouse team that lost to Japan, 6-3, in the championship game of the demonstration tournament during the Los Angeles Olympics but helped sell the amateur program to the world.

South Korea bought in, nominating baseball as a demonstration sport in the 1988 Olympics at Seoul, and the International Olympic Committee then made it an official medal sport, starting with the Barcelona Games, which open Saturday.

"It's a dream come true," said Rod Dedeaux, the legendary former USC coach who was at the helm of the 1984 team and has been at the forefront of the amateur baseball movement since 1945, the goal being Olympic gold.

"We caught the imagination of the whole baseball world in '84," Dedeaux said of what he viewed as more success than failure. "I always felt that winning or losing was secondary to the fact that we showcased baseball to the world. The name of the game was selling international baseball."

In Los Angeles, it was a virtual sellout. The eight-day, 16-game tournament at Dodger Stadium drew 385,285 fans, an average of 48,161, but although it helped produce international acceptance, the U.S. team had a different reaction to its loss.

"Disbelief," said former Fresno State pitcher John Hoover, the 2-1 winner over Taiwan in the first game of the tournament and the loser to Japan.

"We had beaten the Japanese numerous times on the (pre-Olympic) tour, and we were by far the best team in the tournament," Hoover said. "Put us on the field 10 times and we'd have won nine times. We just didn't win that day, but that's the way baseball is."

How strong was the U.S. team?

Greg Swindell, Norm Charlton, Drew Hall and Ken Caminiti, all future major leaguers, were among those who failed to survive the last cut.

In addition:

--Of the 20 players on the roster, 13 were first-round draft picks in 1984 and five went during the first round in 1985.

The 1984 selections were Don August, Scott Bankhead, Bob Caffrey, Mike Dunne, Gary Green, Shane Mack, John Marzano, Oddibe McDowell, Mark McGwire, Pat Pacillo, Cory Snyder, Bill Swift and Hoover.

The 1985 picks were Chris Gwynn, Barry Larkin, B.J. Surhoff, Bobby Witt and Clark.

The only two players who were not selected during the first round either year were pitcher Sid Akins, a third-round selection by the Texas Rangers in 1984, and infielder Flavio Alfaro, a fourth-round pick by the New York Mets in that year.

--Of the 20, only three--Akins, Alfaro and Caffrey--failed to reach the majors and only six--Akins, Alfaro, Caffrey, Hoover, McDowell and Pacillo--are not still playing.

August, Dunne and Green are at triple A. Bankhead, Clark, Gwynn, Larkin, Mack, Marzano, McGwire, Snyder, Surhoff, Swift and Witt remain in the majors.

"People may not have recognized it at the time, but that was definitely a dream team," said McGwire, the Oakland A's first baseman.

Said Dedeaux: "It was a team of super potential. People rightly feel that it may have been the greatest assembly of amateur talent ever. But you have to also remember that it was a very young team that did not have the international experience of the Japanese team. There were people who felt we should have dominated, but the fact is we were third in the world at that time to Cuba and Japan."

Baseball had been a demonstration sport in six previous Olympics, but in almost each instance the demonstration consisted of two teams playing one game, sometimes on a makeshift diamond in the middle of a track and field layout.

Although Cuba joined the Eastern-bloc boycott of the Los Angeles Games, the eight-team field included Japan, Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, Nicaragua, Italy, the Dominican Republic and the United States, which went 28-4-1 on a national tour preceding the Games, a barnstorming exhibition that some felt contributed to the final defeat.

"None of us had ever traveled much before, but it didn't take long for us to learn that we could complain about just about everything," said McDowell, the former Arizona State outfielder. "We were up at 4 every morning, busing or flying to the next city. We lived on cold cuts, I think, and it eventually took a toll. I mean, we did as well as we could do under the circumstances."

In the Olympics, the United States, with an age span of 19-22, swept its three division games, outscoring the opposition by 30-2 while hitting eight home runs and batting .353.

Hoover, a breaking-ball specialist who had led the nation in victories and strikeouts at Fresno State that year, pitched a four-hitter for the 2-1 victory over Taiwan before 52,319. Marzano, now a reserve catcher with the Boston Red Sox, hit a solo homer, and Clark singled to drive in a second run.

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