U.S. baseball bronze could put Dream on deck Coaches, players opposed to big-league participants

Atlanta Olympics

August 03, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The Dream Team debate is certain to heat up now. The USA baseball team won the bronze medal at the XXVI Olympiad yesterday and -- in doing so -- provided another compelling argument for the use of professional players in 2000.

There is little question that the United States would field the best team in the world if major-leaguers were eligible for the Olympics and a format was created that did not conflict with the major-league season. There also is reason to believe that the International Olympic Committee will find a way to make all that happen, but there was strong sentiment at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium that it would be a pointless exercise in commercialism and U.S. self-congratulation.

"It's about commercialism, capitalism and what works on television," said U.S. head coach Skip Bertman, whose team rebounded from Thursday night's devastating loss to Japan and defeated Nicaragua, 10-3, in the bronze-medal game yesterday.

Cuba won the gold with a 13-9 victory over Japan.

The Nicaraguan coach, Georgia Southern University assistant Darin Van Tassell, was even more critical of the concept.

"If you're asking me if the Atlanta Braves or an American all-star team would beat all of the teams here, I would say that's a silly question," Van Tassell said. "If we have some yearning need to prove that we have the best athletes and the superior baseball program, it's going in that direction, but basketball has done that and I think it's a silly display going on over there."

The basketball Dream Team is widely popular in the United States, but there really is no doubt about the outcome of the Olympic competition. The American professionals have won each game by a lopsided score, and there is little chance that the rest of the world will catch up in the near future.

It wouldn't be quite as clear-cut if the same format were adopted for baseball because Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Japan and Venezuela all have premier players in the American major leagues. But the depth of talent in the United States would make a Triple-A all-star team a clear favorite in this type of competition.

That's one possibility for the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, which run from Sept. 15 to Oct. 1, 2000. The timing would appear to make major-league participation impossible, but the baseball competition could be staged later, or the U.S. team could be made up of top Triple-A players, whose seasons end in early September.

There even has been speculation that the baseball competition could be held during the Winter Olympics, though that seems far-fetched.

In any case, Bertman didn't like settling for the bronze medal yesterday, but he doesn't think that's the point.

"Personally, I don't think that getting a bunch of basketball players together for two weeks and then stomping everybody by 50 points fulfills the Olympic ideal," Bertman said.

Most of his players seemed to agree. They were tremendously disappointed after the Japanese team advanced to last night's final with an 11-2 victory over them on Thursday night, but few felt that the Olympic format should be changed to tip the balance of power toward the United States.

"I really think that they should keep it for the college athletes," said UCLA sophomore Jim Parque. "It's more genuine and I think it means a lot more to us than it would to the major-league players."

It may be a done deal. Both Bertman and Van Tassell said yesterday they feel the Dream Team concept in baseball is inevitable.

"I'm fearful that we will lose some of the atmosphere and excitement," Van Tassell said, "but I think that's inevitable."

But, added Bertman, "I don't think the major leagues are going to shut down and let their players go to Australia."

Many of the current American players will be major-leaguers by the time baseball is again in the Olympic spotlight, which forced them to think twice when asked if they would return to the Olympics as professional players.

"I've been against it from Day One," said Tennessee pitcher R. A. Dickey, "but if I'm invited, I'll come."

Pub Date: 8/03/96

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