I previously talked about how the IOC should put baseball and softball back into the Olympics. But it got me to thinking: what if MLB had been on board with the Olympics and had sent dream teams overseas? I’m not even talking about the World Baseball Classic teams, which often are missing some key players (primarily pitchers) due to the fact that spring training is at the same time and they are worried that going all-out so early could get them injured. I’m talking about no-holds-barred dream teams that would have taken part in the Olympics during an extended All-Star Break. Who would have gone?
Well, with there being a lot of talk about the 20th anniversary of the original Basketball Dream Team, it got me to thinking of what sort of team the USA would have sent to Barcelona had they A) been allowed (technically, no professionals were allowed to play baseball in the Olympics until the 2000 games) and B) had MLB done a extended All-Star Break to allow the players to go without missing any games.
Drawing inspiration from how the basketball Dream Team was picked, it would be made up not just of the best players available, but also the most marketable. In order to make sure everyone was ready in advance, they presumably would have picked the players based on their performance in 1991. While in 1992 the Olympic teams were limited at 20 players, by the time professionals were in the Olympics the roster had been increased to 24 or 25 players, so I’ll go with that.
So, presenting the alternate universe 1992 Team USA Olympic Baseball Team:
(more after jump)
Manager: Davey Johnson
It’s unlikely that an active MLB manager would have been sent, so it’s likely that, much like how Davey Johnson managed the 2009 WBC team and Joe Torre will manage in 2013, that an out-of-work or retired manager would have gone. And as hilarious as it would have been to think that they’d have dragged Earl Weaver and unleashed him upon an unsuspecting world, it’s more likely they’d go with somebody a little more… diplomatic. Perhaps somebody who’d played overseas. Y’know, somebody like… Davey Johnson, who was out of work after being fired from the Mets in 1990 and who had played two seasons in Japan in the 1970s (thus giving him the honor of having hit behind both Hank Aaron and Sadaharu Oh).
Catchers: Mickey Tettleton and Tom Pagnozzi
After 1991, it’s likely that the two picks would have been Carlton Fisk and Craig Biggio, thus having one of the oldest stars in the league with a newcomer. However, in 1992 Fisk got hurt to start the year and Biggio was moved to second, so it’s likely that Mickey Tettleton (a Silver Slugger winner the year before) and Tom Pagnozzi (a Gold-Glover the year before) would have been drummed into duty.
First Base: Will Clark, Frank Thomas, Cecil Fielder
Apologies to Mark McGwire, Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff Don Mattingly, John Kruk and so on, but I have a feeling that Will Clark, Frank Thomas and Cecil Fielder would be the three 1Bs going to Barcelona- Will Clark, remember, was coming off a season where he had won a a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and had been in the All-Star Game. Thomas had one of his best seasons in 1991. Fielder would have gone for his bat almost exclusively as a DH, having won the HR title two years in a row.
Second Base: Ryne Sandberg
One of the big differences between the Olympics and WBC is that in the Olympics the rosters are a ton smaller, so some positions were going to have only one player. Second Base is one such example, and it would have been manned exclusively by Ryne Sandberg. Sort like how…
Shortstop: Cal Ripken, Jr.
Shortstop would be manned exclusively by Cal Ripken, Jr. He was coming off a MVP season and was one of baseball’s most famous and marketable players. And, of course, he probably wouldn’t have left shortstop even if the team did have a second one on the roster, so…
Third Base: Terry Pendleton and Wade Boggs
Terry Pendleton had been the 1991 NL MVP. Wade Boggs was… Wade Boggs.
Outfield: Ken Griffey, Tony Gwynn, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Kirby Puckett
Is there really anything that I could say here that could speak louder than the five names above? By the way, if Bonds were to have been a jerk and decide not to go, he probably would be replaced by Andre Dawson or Joe Carter. Or Darryl Strawberry. Really, the outfield is incredibly deep.
Utility: Tony Phillips
A utility man is incredibly important in international baseball. Tony Phillips was one of the best supersubs of the early 90s, playing every position except catcher and pitcher during his career. He’s by far the smallest name on this list, the only position player who never made an all-star team.
Starting Pitchers: Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Jim Abbott, Jack Morris
Greg Maddux just misses. Maybe if I do a 1996 dream team sometime in the future…
Relief Pitchers: Lee Smith, Dennis Eckersley, Rick Aguilera, Duane Ward, Mike Stanton, John Franco
So, here is the 1992 US Olympic team:
Manager: Davey Johnson (Ex-Mets)
C: Mickey Tettleton (Detroit), Tom Pagnozzi (Cardinals)
1B: Will Clark (Giants), Frank Thomas (White Sox), Cecil Fielder (Tigers)
2B: Ryne Sandberg (Cubs)
SS: Cal Ripken (Orioles)
3B: Terry Pendleton (Braves), Wade Boggs (Red Sox)
OF: Ken Griffey Jr. (Mariners), Tony Gwynn (Padres), Barry Bonds (Pirates), Rickey Henderson (Athletics), Kirby Puckett (Twins)
Utility: Tony Phillips (Tigers)
SP: Roger Clemens (Red Sox), Tom Glavine (Braves), Jim Abbott (Angels), Jack Morris (Blue Jays)
RP: Lee Smith (Cardinals), Dennis Eckersley (Athletics), Rick Aguilera (Twins), Duane Ward (Blue Jays), Mike Stanton (Braves), John Franco (Mets)
Of course, the thing is that, even back in 1992, parity was far greater in baseball than in Basketball. Puerto Rico and the DR would have brought in teams full of MLBers as well, and Cuba, Japan and Korea would have players from their own leagues. There was no doubt the basketball dream team would win in Barcelona… but the baseball dream team, even with so many all-stars and future hall-of-famers, would still have been a run-in with a good pitcher away from defeat.