International Update

Johnson to manage USA Olympic qualifier squad; Cuba not confirmed for WBC

USA Baseball has retained Davey Johnson as its manager for its next international tournament, the first-stage Olympic qualifier, scheduled for next month in Phoenix.

Johnson, who won a World Series championship with the Mets in 1986 and subsequently managed the Reds, Orioles and Dodgers, was at the helm for Team USA in the World Cup last month. Due mostly to a 5.40 ERA, Team USA finished in seventh place in that tournament in the Netherlands, its worst showing with a roster of professionals.

“I’m looking forward to again having the opportunity to wear the uniform of the United States, and to the challenge this time of making sure that America advances to the 2006 continental qualifier in Cuba,” Johnson said in a press release.

The rest of the coaching staff includes Team USA veterans such as pitching coach Marcel Lachemann, hitting coach Mike Barnett and bench coach Rick Eckstein. Lachemann was the pitching coach for the 1999 Pan American Games team with a rotation that featured Mark Mulder, John Patterson and Brad Penny. Barnett was the hitting coach for Team USA’s 2001 World Cup team, managed by Terry Francona. Eckstein was on Johnson’s staff in the Netherlands.

USA Baseball is currently in the process of selecting its 24-man roster of minor leaguers for the four-day, six-team qualifier, which will be staged just after the Arizona Fall League.

In other international baseball goings-on:

• Cuba’s participation in the World Baseball Classic is not as imminent as was reported on Friday. The Latin American news service that carried the original story apparently mixed up the Classic with a regional amateur qualifying baseball tournament in Puerto Rico. Major League Baseball’s Paul Archey, senior vice president for international operations, said he had not received an official letter of acceptance from Cuba. While MLB still expects Cuba to participate, Cuba is not yet in. One stumbling block could be the number of visas Cuba often applies for to participate in international play. Because it usually has a number of security personnel in uniform in the dugout to keep players from defecting, Cuba often asks for more visas than tournament organizers expect, causing last-minute headaches.

• As was reported Friday, MLB made it official this week and announced that Puerto Rico’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan will serve as a host site for the World Baseball Classic, with a pod featuring Cuba (if it is indeed in the tournament), the Netherlands and Panama in addition to Puerto Rico.