The Olympics officially concluded yesterday and I am a little late to the party with this tie-in. Oh well - inspiration is a fickle mistress.
Anyway, I'm not a huge fan of the Olympics and, outside of the a few track and field events (I am a former trackster myself), I don't really pay much attention (Usain Bolt isn't human). After all, let's face it, it was exceptionally difficult to get truly amped up about them this time around as a result of the scandals and corruption associated with Rio's hosting selection and the Ryan Lochte kerfuffle.
Furthermore, I'm still just a tiny bit perturbed that baseball was taken off of the schedule after the 2008 Olympiad. How is baseball, a game with nationalistic roots throughout the western hemisphere, less of a sport than synchronized swimming and horse dancing? Please tell me because I can't figure it out.
No matter, it's already been announced that this injustice has finally been righted and baseball will once again be on the calendar come 2020 (although, now what happens with the World Baseball Classic?). Unfortunately, I can't remember who originally tweeted it, but the following picture from the last Olympic baseball tourney came across my Twitter feed in the wake of that announcement:
Along with Stephen Strasburg on the left, that's three current Cubs stars sporting the bronze medals that the USA took home that year: Dexter Fowler, Trevor Cahill and Jake Arrieta. Well, how about that? Look at those baby faces!
A Cubs World Series ring would look quite nice to those Olympic medals on their mantles, just sayin'.
After my curiosity got the best of me and I spent a couple hours doing some research, I found out that there was quite a few Cubbie-connections taking the field in Beijing that year:
Making two starts that summer, Arrieta's best performance was a six inning, seven strike out gem in Team USA's 9–1 victory over China, a feat which this card I borrowed from COMC highlights.
Trevor Cahill was already a top prospect in the A's system when he was selected out of AA for the Team USA roster. Cahill took the bump for two starts, giving up just two earned runs in eight innings along the way. It appears as though Trevor never got any love from the Team USA set released by UD at the time.
Dexter Fowler sets the tone for the Cubs offense today (you go, we go); but, in 2008, he was setting the tone for our country. Not quite the offensive threat he is today, the speedy outfielder batted .250 with two walks and nary a single stolen base attempt along the way.
However, while these three big names were to eventually go on and reunite as key cogs in the machine that is the 2015-16 Cubs, they weren't the only guys who eventually blew into the Windy City on that bronze medal winning roster. Also joining them on the podium were:
Former Cubs rebuild-era outfielder and current PED outcast Nate Schierholtz was a starter in the outfield...
Short-term bullpen acquisition Jeff Stevens served as an oft-used reliever in the course of the tournament. Although, his team-leading four appearances were awfully rocky, leading to a 9.00 ERA.
Another busted PED user in Taylor Teagarden was the starting catcher on the squad, several years before becoming the emergency catcher for the 2015 Cubs. For the record, he batted a horrid .185 in tournament play... maybe he should have gotten into those PED's a little bit earlier.
Additionally, if all that wasn't enough, the international nine was even managed by a former Cub:
The longtime MLB infielder with the Orioles finished up his 13-year career with a forgettable, 24 game stint on the Northside of Chicago in 1978. Meanwhile, he would later go on to serve as a highly-successful manager with Team USA in various international competitions from 2005 through 2009.
All in all, that's quite the Cubs contingent for one team - 6 players and one manager. Does this mean we'll eventually get Strasburg too??
At this point, already deep in the rabbit hole of internet researching, I decided to see just how strong the Cubs contingent was for every edition of the Olympics which featured baseball as a competition since it was re-introduced in 1988. I mean, I had to find out if 2008 was aberration, right?
Here's what I uncovered:
1988 in Seoul - Gold Medal
(Four Future Cubs)
Bret Barberie was only a Cub for 15 games in 1996, which put a period on his MLB career; thus, he never received a true Cubs card. However, this IP signed shot of him taking an at-bat at Wrigley Field will do just fine (even if it is a little smeared).
On the other hand, the rest of these guys were around long enough to get a Cubs card and, hey whaddayaknow, I even actually have a Team USA card of Tom Goodwin and didn't have to steal a scan from COMC! Furthermore, all three of them appeared on Cubs playoff squads.
1992 in Barcelona - Fourth Place
(Four Future Cubs)
Nomar is obviously the big star here, but Phil Nevin in his prime was no slouch either. However, neither one of those guys were in Chicago for very long. Meanwhile, Murray and Tucker both stuck around the league for quite awhile as role players and, of course, each spent a brief amount of time in Wrigley Field.
Furthermore, this time I had two of the four in Team USA garb - look at me, batting .500!
1996 in Atlanta - Bronze Medal
(Two Future Cubs)
(Two Future Cubs)
Jacque Jones was the starting center fielder of a Cubs playoff team (2007) and Augie "O" was a perennial fan favorite in the Second City (Chicago loves it's scrappy middle infielders). As much as Chicago adored little Augie, apparently the makers of Team USA cards don't share that affection. Still, not a bad crop of future Cubbies here, though not nearly as strong as 2008 or 1988. Plus, it's the smallest so far.
Even so, at this point, the Cubs representation falls off of a cliff.
2000 in Sydney - Gold Medal
(One Former Cub*)
Not a single player from this roster ever became a Chicago Cub - how very disappointing. However, a couple of guys, Mike Kinkade and Travis "Gookie" Dawkins did spend some time in the Cubs farm system.
Furthermore, the pitching coach for the first Team USA team to win the gold medal in their own National Pastime since 1988 was a bonfide, true blue former Cub - Phil Regan, aka "the Vulture." This was to be his only appearance on the USA coaching staff, serving under beloved Dodger icon Tommy Lasorda.
2004 in Athens - Did Not Qualify
(Nobody, future Cub or not)
The United States did not make it to Athens after losing a qualifying game to Mexico, 1-0 as part of the Americas Tournament. Had they made it, we'd see another appearance by Taylor Teagarden, as well as his future Iowa Cubs teammate Chris Valaika, who made a cameo with Chicago as an injury replacement in 2014.
Sorry guys - tough break!
There you have it - a comprehensive look at everyone who has ever played for the Cubs and participated in the world's oldest sporting competition for Team USA. Of course, many a future/former Cub has represented a different country throughout Olympic history, i.e. Erik Pappas for Greece, Tsuyoshi Wada and Kosuke Fukudome for Japan, Chang Yong-Lim for South Korea, et al. However, that's enough content for a post in and of itself. Maybe another time.
In the end, the roster of the 2008 edition of Team USA was the most dense in Cubs connections with 7, while 1988 and '92 were tied for second with 4 each.
Meanwhile, back in the present, the United States really kicked some major tail this particular Olympiad, winning 121 medals. That's darn near double the amount of second place Great Britain. Maybe, just maybe, adding our National Pastime back into the competition will allow us to increase our dominance come 2020.
Also, if the past games are any indication, the Cubs are likely to be scouting those games hard, since it's quite apparent that we like to pick up international competitors here in Chicago.