Approaching what could be the last days of Olympic baseball, Davey Johnson says he would trade one of his three World Series rings for a gold medal.
The self-described Army brat, a manager proud to once again represent his country, won’t be forced to make such a deal just yet. But with the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing looming, there are several complex choices ahead for Team USA.
General manager Bob Watson knows he must strike a delicate balance between the needs of the Olympic team and the 30 Major League franchises that might lend out prospects.
In assembling the team, Watson will look at players outside of a Major League club’s active 25-man roster. From there, an organization’s top two or three prospects — the next men up in a possible pennant race — will also probably be off-limits, Watson said Tuesday at the U.S. Olympic Committee’s media summit in Chicago.
Even so, Watson said, “I still feel our player [No.] 29 is as good or better as everybody else in the world.”
One name Watson has seemingly eliminated from consideration is Roger Clemens.
“He’s not on my radar screen,” Watson, the former general manager of the Houston Astros and New York Yankees, said at the Palmer House Hilton. “Not because of his off-field issues, [but] his last four or five outings in the big league level — it was a real struggle for him physically.
“He took shots in his elbow and he had hamstring and groin issues … I would rather take [a] 28-year-old who’s throwing well and he’s in good physical shape, even though he doesn’t have the numbers and the credentials that Roger would have, but I could depend on him. See, once we go … there’s no replacing him, and I don’t want to play a man short.”
August may mark the final appearance of baseball as an Olympic sport. The International Olympic Committee dropped it from the London Games in 2012, though next year it could be voted back into the 2016 edition.
Watson, now an executive with Major League Baseball, said he thinks the sport could reemerge on the Olympic stage. Watson identified several factors that could prove influential: a good show in 2008; the continued international growth of the game; Major League Baseball’s tougher drug-testing policy; and a creative agreement that would allow the world’s best professional players to participate.
“This is — not in my mind — the last Olympics,” Watson said.
Team USA must submit a provisional 60-man roster 45 days before the first day of competition, with the final 24 players expected to be announced in early July.
It will be Johnson’s job to protect those Major League assets, the power arms that will confront Japan, Cuba and the world. If a pitcher changes his delivery, Johnson promised on Tuesday, he will be taken out. If a young reliever pitches multiple innings, the manager said, he will receive a few days off.
Johnson carries extensive international experience, having managed the Dutch national team in 2004 — he said wearing orange and white to the Opening Ceremony felt strange — as well as the American squad that qualified for the upcoming Olympics at a 2006 tournament in Cuba.
After clinching, the veteran baseball man experienced a bus ride in Havana like no other, full of singing, partying and passing around a jug of rum. The manager is clearly excited for this opportunity.
“It’s one thing having ‘Orioles’ or ‘Mets’ across your chest. It’s another thing when it says ‘USA,’ and you go play against other countries,” Johnson said. “It’s just something in there that tugs at you.”
But even if Johnson pockets a gold medal, he dismissed the idea of parlaying that into another managing job on the big league level.
“My next step would be — go to the beach and wear that around my neck,” Johnson said. “I’ve really taken care of my baseball fix and this is a new pinnacle, really, for my career.”
So for Team USA, how to find out the player they can choose is quite important, due to good prospect could be up to MLB and sometimes team will not let them go, it is quite a challenge to pick players and also play in Beijing.