Baseball was brought back to the Summer Olympic Games when they were staged in Los Angeles in 1984. Although technically a demonstration sport for those Games and the ones that followed in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea, many talented players from the United States-albeit not major leaguers at the time-took part and showcased America’s national pastime to the world. Here is a look at five who went on to major league stardom:
Will Clark: 1984 Los Angeles: A sweet-swinging first baseman, Clark was a college star when the 1984 Games rolled around. He was instrumental in leading the U.S. team to a silver medal finish, amassing a .429 average with 3 HRs and 8 RBIs in five games. Over a superb major-league career spanning fifteen seasons, Clark was a career .303 batter with 2176 base hits.
Mark McGwire: 1984 Los Angeles: A promising corner infield power hitter in college, McGwire was a disappointment in Los Angeles. His paltry .190 average at the plate included no runs produced and six strikeouts. As a big-leaguer, McGwire is famous for his 583 career home runs-with a then single-season record 70 roundtrippers in 1998-and infamous for his participation in steroid use that tainted his accomplishments.
Barry Larkin: 1984 Los Angeles: Larkin was a versatile utilityman for the U.S. team in Los Angeles, giving just glimpses of his fulfilling his immense potential. A twelve-time All-Star performer and a 2012 choice for the Baseball Hall-of Fame , the future Cincinnati Reds shortstop was inserted into the lineup for just three of the team’s five games, batting only .143.
Robin Ventura: 1988 Seoul: One of the greatest collegiate hitters ever, Ventura was an indispensible batter in the middle of the lineup for the squad in South Korea that captured gold with a stellar .409 average. Ventura went on to an outstanding career in the majors in which he accumulated 1885 hits and 294 home runs. Additionally, he was a slick-fielding first and third baseman who was awarded six Gold Gloves over the course of his sixteen seasons.
Nomar Garciaparra: 1992 Barcelona: The U.S. baseball team that represented the country at the Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain failed to medal and came in a disappointing fourth. Nomar Garciaparra was an infielder on that team and did not acquit himself well with a .200 batting average. Garciaparra, though, went on to bigger and better things in the major leagues over a standout, although injury-plagued, career. His notable statistics include a .313 career batting mark with 229 home runs. He was also a six-time All-Star selection.
My selections are heavily weighted towards choices from the 1984 and 1988 Summer Games, and with good reason. The talent sent by the U.S. to both of those Olympics included many of the best American players to perform in the major leagues in the 1980s and 1990s.
For example, the 1984 team comprised seventeen players who were chosen in the first round of the MLB draft in either ’84 or ’85, with the remainder of the twenty squad members picked in early rounds. And, even though baseball was not an official Olympic sport in ’88, the U.S. roster was again a talent-laden one and took the gold medal.