Baseball's Olympic dream teams
In a dream world, the best baseball players on the planet would stop whatever they're doing every four years, pick up their bats and their gloves and their pine tar and make a pilgrimage to the Olympic Games, where national pride and Olympic ideals would combine to provide us with the world's greatest baseball spectacle.
To which Major League Baseball, of course, has said the following: Dream on, Olympics. Dream on.
And to which the Olympics have strongly responded: $@*& you, MLB! $@*& you! (Albeit in a friendly, "We are the World" kind of way.)
Baseball and the Olympics always have had a bit of a rocky relationship. The game has been around longer than the modern Games, and our national pastime has grown into a sort of iconic status in a handful of countries, yet it was nothing more than a demonstration sport in the Olympics until 1992, when it finally became "official" in the Barcelona Games.
The game is disappearing after the Beijing Games, voted out by organizers unhappy with MLB's refusal to let its players go, among other reasons. It's a shame, too, if you listen to Tommy Lasorda, the longtime Dodgers manager and the skipper of the American team that won the gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Games.
If you listen to Lasorda -- and when he's talking, which is often, you have no choice but to listen -- the Olympics were the highlight of his baseball career. Not 50 years with the Dodgers. Not the two World Series titles. His Olympic team, led by a minor league pitcher named Ben Sheets, now pitching for the Brewers, winning the gold with an upset over Cuba was the pinnacle.
"People thought I was wacky. But you win that gold medal and all of America is happy," Lasorda said the other day from Southern California. "This is the U-ni-ted States [he splits the world into three distinct syllables] of America!"
Lasorda, who will be 81 next month, is an unabashed Olympic fan, but having lived on both sides, he knows that it's hard to fault MLB for not sending its players. Asking Bud Selig to put the brakes on a $4 billion industry in mid-moneymaking, risking injury to its main assets in the process and possibly angering millions of its consumers back home, is asking a lot. Probably too much.
"Let me ask you," says Lasorda. "If those guys in the Olympics were playing basketball during the NBA season, you think those [NBA players] would play?"
Lasorda also is an enthusiastic backer of the World Baseball Classic. The second running of the WBC, that 16-team MLB-manufactured event that debuted in 2006 -- call it Olympics Lite -- is scheduled for next spring.
Still, an Olympics filled with baseball Dream Teams from all over the globe would be something, he admits. "If [Olympic organizers] said that we'll put baseball back in if they send Major League Baseball players," Lasorda says, "I would have each team give me one guy. They can play for a week without 25 guys [on the roster]."
Whether that ever will happen is doubtful, but MLB is busy lobbying the International Olympic Committee to reinstate baseball in time for the 2016 Games.
Until then, we can dream, can't we? That's what the Olympics are all about.