The United States will be fielding a team of has-beens and not-yets in the 2021 Olympics. They hope to win gold, but they’re going up against some tough competition.
Anyone who has looked over the rosters of the six Olympic baseball teams participating in Tokyo, especially USA Baseball, has undoubtedly felt a bit like the characters in the 1989 film “Major League.”
“Half of these people I’ve never heard of, and the ones I do know are far beyond their prime.”
And, like the mythical Cleveland team from the movies, this roster of has-beens and not-yets is an easy bunch to root for as they represent the United States in baseball’s 13-year hiatus from the Olympics.
Team USA, which has won back-to-back games in the Olympic competition against Israel and South Korea, is made up of an even number of pitchers and position players. Four former MLB All-Stars are on the list, including infielder Todd “The Toddfather” Frazier, who last pitched for his local club, the Frontier League’s Sussex County Miners. Some Miners got into a fight with fans who threw beer on them during a hot dog eating contest the night before he departed for pre-Olympic training camp (“Got out of there in the nick of time.”) Edwin Jackson, who pitched a no-hitter for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010, David Robertson, who won a World Series in 2009 and the World Baseball Classic in 2017, and ageless lefty Scott Kazmir are among the pitchers on the roster.
The 37-year-old Kazmir began the season with the San Francisco Giants, his first appearance in a major-league game in five years. The Giants designated Kazmir for assignment after two weeks and three appearances. He found his rhythm with Triple-A Sacramento and promptly contacted USA Baseball. Making that decision had been on Kazmir’s mind since summer 2020, when he sensed he still had some pop in an arm that hadn’t seen action since 2016. During a simple game of catch with Seattle Mariners pitcher Kendall Graveman, he sensed he still had some pop in an arm that hadn’t seen action since 2016. Most thought he was aiming for a return to MLB when he began pitching again.
In fact, he kept one eye on Tokyo at all times.
“I was retired and content a year ago, but I was thinking about it last year when the Olympics were postponed.” As the squad reassembled at the USA Baseball facility in Cary, North Carolina, two weeks ago, Kazmir recalled, “I had that in the back of my mind and kept at it.” “I kept it in the back of my mind, knowing that I would jump at the chance.” I needed a lot of repetitions to get back into the flow of things in pro ball, and I believe that this experience prepared me well for this chance.
“It’s something you dream of as a child, to be able to represent my nation in the Olympics.”
The remainder of the 24-man roster consists of minor leaguers, but 14 of them have made it up to the Show for at least a cup of coffee. They’re all eager to advance, and their manager, Mike Scioscia, wants to capitalize on that desire over the next week.
“What I love about these guys is that they all want to be on this team,” Scioscia said from the USA Baseball facility in mid-July, just before the players arrived in the Raleigh suburb for a one-week camp that featured a three-game warmup series with the USA college team. “We have 24 guys with 24 distinct tales, each at a different point in their baseball careers. It’s what I like most about a clubhouse: bringing together veterans, new men, and everyone in between, all with the same objective in mind: to win a gold medal. We have players that have won World Series, collegiate championships, and everything else you can think of.
“However, none of us have won an Olympic gold medal.”
At the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Eddy Alvarez earned a silver medal. USA TODAY Sports’ Yukihito Taguchi
The 62-year-old, who has three World Series titles (two as a player and one as a manager), added a last note. “We do, however, have a man who has won an Olympic medal. One that is silver. Eddy is the one who most desires a gold medal.”
Eddy Alvarez, the infielder, was mentioned by Scioscia. And no, his silver medal in baseball was not earned by the South Florida native. Since South Korea, Cuba, and the United States went 1-2-3 in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, no one has won an Olympic baseball medal of any sort.
Eddy the Jet, as Alvarez is known, won silver in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Yes, a Miami native competed in the Winter Olympics. He was one among the favorites to win gold in four separate speed skating events, but he only reached the finals in one of them, the 5000-meter relay, after a collision disqualification, being knocked out by a falling competitor, and a fall blamed on soft ice. His squad was defeated by Russia by.271 second.
The White Sox signed Alvarez later that summer. He made his MLB debut on Aug. 5, 2020, for his local club, the Miami Marlins, after fighting his way up the minor-league ladder. He became just the second person in history to win both an Olympic medal and a major-league at-bat. Jim Thorpe is the other. He was sent to Class AAA Jacksonville a month later. He was selected to Team USA in May 2021.
Alvarez was holding the Stars and Stripes with Sue Bird when the US Olympians came out of the tunnel during the Opening Ceremonies last week. The son of Cuban immigrants who transformed rollerblading in South Florida into an Olympic silver medal became the 129th athlete to participate in both the Winter and Summer Games as soon as his baseball team hit the field on Friday morning. So, if Team USA Baseball finishes on the podium, he would become just the sixth athlete in the modern Olympics’ 125-year history to win a medal in both sports.
The Jet, on the other hand, is uninterested in receiving a medal. He is looking for the medal.
“I have unfinished business,” the 31-year-old stated two weeks ago, just minutes after letting the cat out of the bag he was a candidate to take to the flag (“Please don’t write that!”). “Imagine being so near to gold, less than three tenths of a second. Imagine being given a second chance. That is never the case. It’s occurring right now. I’m not going to throw it away. And I’m surrounded by a bunch of men that share my ambition.”
While Alvarez is receiving a second shot at gold, this is most certainly the team’s last chance at alchemy. Baseball has been petitioned to be revived in Tokyo, and although it will not be on the program in Paris three years from now, the drive has already begun to bring baseball back to Los Angeles in 2028, where it had its Olympic debut as a showcase sport in 1984.
The 1984 Summer Olympics captured the interest and imagination of the American people like no other Games before or after. They were shown on every television station from coast to coast, including the Los Angeles Dodgers’ clubhouse, which was sent on the road so that Dodger Stadium could host Olympic baseball. Tommy Lasorda, the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was enthralled with it and couldn’t stop talking about it. He said that if baseball became a permanent Olympic event, he would want to be the coach and help America win gold.
On the Dodgers squad, Scioscia was the catcher. He’ll never forget hearing Lasorda speak about his Olympic ambitions in 1984, and he still gets caught up thinking about his talks with his manager in 2000, when Lasorda came home from the Sydney Games after leading Team USA to victory. Lasorda was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997 after winning two World Series and 1,599 games as a manager. But he cried all the way to the end as he spoke about “the best moment of my baseball life.”
“I never saw Tommy weep like he did when the United States won the gold medal,” Scioscia recalled, stopping to regain his composure. “Tears streamed down his cheeks. He was ecstatic. He was ecstatic to be given the chance. It was everything to him to win, not only for Los Angeles, but for the whole country. I’m hoping to have the chance to do so as well.”