Olympics Preview: Mike Scioscia Leads Team USA As It Goes For Gold In Tokyo
Their friendship spanned more than 40 years, and when Lasorda died earlier this year, Scioscia served as one of his pallbearers.
Scioscia saw Lasorda through many of the most emotional moments in his career. Nothing, in Scioscia’s mind, compares to when Lasorda led Team USA to a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics.
“I never saw him cry during our celebrations like he did when the U.S. won the gold medal," Scioscia said. "Tears coming down his face and he was so proud and so excited to have that opportunity. It meant a lot to him. I hope I get that opportunity to experience that, too.”
Scioscia, the longtime Angels manager, will try to follow in Lasorda’s footsteps and lead Team USA to Olympic gold this summer in Tokyo. The United States is one of six teams competing in baseball this summer, joining Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Israel and the Dominican Republic.
It is the first time baseball has been a part of the Olympics since 2008. Organizers dropped baseball and softball from the 2012 and 2016 games, but reinstated them for 2021.
“It’s a great privilege to put on the USA jersey,” said Scioscia, who was named Team USA’s manager in April. “All these guys feel it.”
With Scioscia at the helm, Team USA qualified for the Olympics by going undefeated at the Americas Qualifier in Florida in early June. The U.S. defeated Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Canada and Venezuela by a combined score of 29-10, in addition to leading Puerto Rico 6-1 in the fourth inning of a game that was suspended by rain.
Only non-40-man roster players were allowed to participate in the qualifier, so Team USA relied on a mix of former major leaguers and current top prospects to navigate the tournament.
Seasoned big league veterans Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Matt Kemp, Jon Jay, Logan Forsythe, Edwin Jackson and Homer Bailey all played for Team USA. Aside from Frazier, however, most of Team USA’s best performers were prospects.
Left fielder Luke Williams (Phillies) hit .444 and reached base in half of his plate appearances out of the leadoff spot; catcher Mark Kolozsvary (Reds) tied Frazier for the team lead with two home runs; first baseman Triston Casas (Red Sox) hit .400 with a pair of doubles and center fielder Jarren Duran (Red Sox) went 7-for-19 with a double, a triple and three runs scored.
Shortstop Nick Allen (Athletics) led a sensational team-wide defensive effort to back lefthander Matthew Liberatore (Cardinals), righthander Joe Ryan (Rays) and righthander Simeon Woods Richardson (Blue Jays), who combined for a 2.95 ERA over four starts, including the suspended game against Puerto Rico.
“We came together as a group, right from Day One,” Frazier said after going 4-for-4 with a home run in Team USA’s Olympic berth-clinching win against Venezuela. “We had a great bunch of young guys. We had a good amount of older guys, including myself. We were just playing baseball.”
Team USA’s roster will look different by the time the Olympics commence on July 24. As with the qualifier, only players not on 40-man rosters will be eligible to participate.
The Phillies called up Williams three days after the qualifier, meaning he will not be eligible to participate in the Olympics. Duran is one of many players in Triple-A on the verge of a callup. Frazier, Robertson and other unsigned veterans made no secret of the fact they hoped to be signed by a major league team, which would preclude them from participating if they signed a big league deal.
The restriction against using 40-man players puts Team USA at a disadvantage in the Olympics. Host Japan is allowing players from its major leagues to participate, while defending gold medalist South Korea will also bring players from its major league.
Then again, Team USA was a decided underdog against Cuba in the gold-medal game of the 2000 Olympics. With a team of prospects and unsigned veterans, Team USA beat Cuba 4-0 in a stunning upset that came to be known as the “Miracle on Grass.” Ben Sheets, Roy Oswalt, Doug Mientkiewicz, Ryan Franklin, Adam Everett and Jon Rauch were all part of that team before going on to long major league careers.
Scioscia’s goal is for history to repeat itself in Tokyo. If it does, he will finally know the emotion his friend and predecessor Lasorda felt in winning an Olympic gold medal.
Baseball At The Summer Olympics
• Dates: July 28 to Aug. 7 in Tokyo
• Locations: Fukushima Azuma Stadium and Yokohama Stadium
• Teams: United States, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Israel and Dominican Republic.
• Format: Each team plays two games in the opening round. All six teams advance to the knockout stage, where teams will be eliminated after either one or two additional losses, depending on their results from the opening round.