Bob Watson, co-chairman of the U.S. Olympic baseball selection
committee, offers a caveat when discussing the team that manager
Tommy Lasorda will take to Sydney. "We would have liked to get
Ken Griffey and Mark McGwire, but we knew that wasn't going to
happen," says Watson, who last week announced the 29 members of
America's team. (The 24 players on the active roster will be
determined just before the Games.) "Still, we're very happy with
who we have. These guys are all legitimate players."
In the first Olympic competition to allow pros, the U.S., which
has won just one bronze since baseball became a medal sport in
1992, will be at a disadvantage. Countries such as Cuba (which
won the gold in '92 and '96), Japan (which will send eight
players from its major leagues) and Korea (which plans to shut
down its major league for three weeks so a collection of
all-stars can go) will send many of their best players. Lasorda's
squad includes only four players (Pat Borders, Marcus Jensen,
Doug Mientkiewicz and Ernie Young) with 100 or more games of big
The 18-member selection committee began scouting early this
season, and shortly before the All-Star break submitted to major
league teams a list of the players in whom it was interested.
That list was whittled down as players got hurt or traded or as
teams decided to hold players back for September call-ups. For
example, Mariners minor league southpaw Ryan Anderson seemed a
lock for the Games until he went on the DL with shoulder
tendinitis in late July. Cubs outfield prospect Corey Patterson
was held back at the last minute when Chicago chose to give him
some big league at bats in September.
What the committee ended up with is a squad heavy on power--at the
plate and on the mound. Five of the 13 pitchers named to the team
were first-round draft picks. The likely ace is Brewers prospect
Ben Sheets, 22, who through Sunday was a combined 8-8 with a 2.47
ERA in 25 starts and one relief appearance for Double A
Hunstville and Triple A Indianapolis. Sheets, who throws a hard
curve and a fastball in the mid-90s, is typical of the staff.
Says Reds scouting director Gary Hughes, a member of the
selection committee, "We looked for young power pitchers who had
success this year." C.C. Sabathia, a lefthander in the Indians
organization who was 6-9 with a 3.63 ERA and 155 strikeouts in
141 1/3 innings in two stops in the minors, Kurt Ainsworth
(Giants, righthander, 9-9, 3.46) and Jon Rauch (White Sox,
righthander, 15-4, 2.81 and 173 strikeouts in 157 innings) all
fit the profile. It falls to 37-year-old catcher Borders, the
1992 World Series MVP with the Blue Jays and the most experienced
major leaguer on the team, to guide the young staff.
Mindful that the U.S. averaged only 4.6 runs a game on its way to
a silver medal at the 1999 Pan Am Games, the committee looked
for seasoned hitters with power, which explains the presence of
such career minor leaguers as third baseman Mike Coolbaugh (age
28) and outfielders John Cotton (29), Anthony Sanders (26) and
Ernie Young (31). All have hit at least 25 home runs in a pro
They all played this season as well, something such retired major
leaguers as Tim Raines and Pat Kelly didn't have going for them
in their failed bids to make the team. "We thanked those older
guys for cranking it up again," says Watson, "but there's a
reason they retired."
COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE Borders will be a steadying hand in the Games.