Mark McGwire

Mark McGwire remembers baseball’s Olympic boom in 1984

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Mark McGwire most often recalls the 1984 Olympics when asked to autograph his rookie card.

No. 401 in the 1985 Topps set depicts a toothy-grinned 20-year-old USC first baseman. Bat over his right shoulder. Marlboro cigarettes signage beyond his left. Team USA jersey and cap.

McGwire was at Shea Stadium, on a pre-Olympic tour.

“As a young kid, playing baseball, you think someday I might have a baseball card, right?” McGwire, now the Dodgers hitting coach, said before a Freeway Series game at Angel Stadium on Wednesday. “I remember thinking [before the photo shoot], if that’s my first baseball card, I’m going to get a wood bat. I didn’t want to have an aluminum bat in my hand [aluminum bats were used in NCAA and Olympic baseball]. I want to say it was a Louisville [Slugger]. Even though I used Rawlings my whole life.”

Today is the 30th anniversary of the first Olympic baseball tournament gold-medal final, when it was a demonstration sport played at Dodger Stadium at the Los Angeles Games. Medals were awarded, but the one currently dangling in McGwire’s office isn’t “official” like those earned by Carl Lewis or Mary Lou Retton.

Baseball had been a very loose part of some Olympics as far back as 1904, mostly in one-game exhibitions before 1984, “sometimes on a makeshift diamond in the middle of a track and field layout.”

It became a standard sport starting in 1992 until it was voted out of the Olympic program after the 2008 Beijing Games.

In 1984, McGwire and 19 more college players made up what he later called a dream team — notables included Will Clark and Barry LarkinKen Caminiti was among the final cuts after quite the selection process, according to Sports Illustrated:

More than 3,000 candidates, including a 12-year-old girl and a 43-year-old man, participated in 63 open one-day tryouts that began last fall.

McGwire is the most recognizable player to ever don a U.S. Olympic baseball uniform, two years before his Major League debut and 14 years before he broke Roger Maris‘ single-season home-run record during a career tainted by steroid use.

He called the 1984 Olympic team the greatest collection of U.S. amateur players up to that date. Eighteen of the 20 Olympians were drafted in MLB’s first round in 1984 or 1985.

“A lot of us had nice careers in the big leagues afterwards,” McGwire said, reeling off names, “but we came up just short in that last game.”

Japan shocked the U.S. for gold, 6-3, after losing six of their seven pre-Olympic exhibition meetings.

McGwire had one hit in the final, finishing the five-game competition a disappointing four for 21 with no home runs.

He smacked 32 homers in his final season at USC that year, before going to the A’s with the 10th overall pick in the June draft. He hit .359 in a 37-game pre-Olympic tour, according to his book, “Mark McGwire: Home Run Hero.”

“It’s just like playing well in the playoffs prior to the World Series, and all of a sudden you don’t play well in the World Series,” McGwire said. “You’re talking 30 years ago. I don’t really remember. I remember I didn’t do very well.”

source:  Despite little reported TV coverage, major U.S. news outlets still deemed Olympic baseball a success, the unusual sound of aluminum dings inside Dodger Stadium drowned out by cheers of game crowds greater than 50,000. And an Asian umpire signaling balls and strikes with white gloves, according to The New York Times.

“It was like a World Series atmosphere,” McGwire said. “For never being in a World Series at the time. Now I know what a World Series is like. But it was awesome, it really was. A packed house.”

The U.S. became overwhelming favorites when Cuba joined the Soviet Union-led boycott two months before the Opening Ceremony. McGwire says now he doesn’t remember any chatter among the Americans about missing the Cubans. Give him a break, it was 30 years ago, but here’s what he told Sports Illustrated before the Olympics:

“I don’t see how we can miss getting the gold,” says McGwire. “The only team that could have competed with us was the Cubans. It’s too bad they’re boycotting. The teams we’re playing just can’t compete with our power.”

The U.S. was joined in the eight-team tournament by Japan, Canada, the Dominican Republic (Cuba’s replacement), Italy, Nicaragua, South Korea and Taiwan.

First, McGwire marched in the Opening Ceremony at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, across the street from USC.

“I remember when we were at USC at Heritage Hall, they had all the captains for all the sports take a photo,” McGwire said. “I have it somewhere in storage, but there was a young guy by the name of Michael Jordan that was there [Jordan, like McGwire, played at the Los Angeles Olympics two months after being drafted]. So it was pretty cool. I remember the baseball players were battling the basketball players on who’s going to be the last Americans to come out of the tunnel [to march at the end of the Parade of Nations]. We were all together.”

McGwire earned the first base job over Clark, perhaps boosted by the fact Team USA’s manager was also McGwire’s coach at USC, Rod Dedeaux. Clark went to the outfield.

“And you know, there was a guy who never played,” McGwire added. “Barry Larkin.”

Larkin actually did play a little in the Olympics, but McGwire said the primary middle infielders were San Diego State’s Flavio Alfaro who never played in the majors — and Oklahoma State’s Gary Green.

“From what I was told, it was because [Larkin] was the younger kid on the block,” McGwire said. “He was the sophomore. But, Hall of Famer. To think he didn’t really play that much. It’s amazing to think why he didn’t, but that’s how Rod made the lineup.”

The U.S. fared fine without Larkin at the start of the Olympics, winning all four of its games en route to the final, including 16-1 and 12-0 wins over Italy and the Dominican Republic, respectively. They had a nine-run first inning against Italy.

“In ’83, we went over to Amsterdam,” McGwire said. “I just remember people saying, baseball’s just starting over here. They’re learning how to play the game of baseball. We had a chance to play it since we were little kids.”

In past interviews, McGwire lamented a grueling pre-Games, six-week nationwide tour, where he played in big-league stadiums against local college all-star teams and at more barnstorming outposts like Battle Creek, Mich., and Tri-Cities, Wash., with few days off.

“I may have made it to the majors a year sooner [if it hadn’t been for the Olympics],” McGwire told the Los Angeles Times in 1992. “If I had to do it again, I don’t know if I would.”

That feeling wasn’t palpable inside Angel Stadium on Wednesday. McGwire grinned and joked, remembering his first run-ins with Don Zimmer and Reggie Jackson on that tour, and his one regret.

“It was a great honor,” he said. “Unfortunately, I wish I could say that I had a gold medal for it.”

Olympic champions join ‘Biggest Loser’ cast

World Figure Skating Championships women’s preview

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Ashley Wagner has not watched any of Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva‘s programs this season, but this much Wagner knows without looking:

“She is technically flawless, and if there is an athlete that we should be chasing, obviously it’s Yevgenia,” Wagner said.

Medvedeva, a 17-year-old from Moscow, is the biggest favorite across all four disciplines at next week’s world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

Wagner is the 2016 World silver medalist, the first U.S. woman on the podium in 10 years, but it would be shocking if she upgrades to gold next week. Realistically, she’s at best fighting for a silver or bronze along with Russians Anna Pogorilaya and Maria Sotskova, Canadians Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabrielle Daleman, Italian Carolina Kostner and Japan’s Mai Mihara.

Medvedeva is in her own class.

Undefeated since November 2015. Winner of her last 11 events in her first two seasons at the senior level. She can become the first woman to repeat as world champion since Michelle Kwan in 2001.

In fact, another gold would give Medvedeva the most dominant two-season stretch by a female skater since Katarina Witt‘s stronghold in the mid-1980s.

“I really appreciate her in the sport because she is a set bar that everybody is chasing after, and I think in years past that bar was always changing,” Wagner said.

What sets Medvedeva apart is that she has been polished, from her triple-triple jump combinations and spins to her performance quality, since turning 16 in her senior debut season a year ago.

And her consistency. All other recent Russian stars — 2014 Olympic champions Adelina Sotnikova and Yulia Lipnitskaya and 2015 World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva — simply could not put together two straight world-class seasons at the senior level.

Given that history, Wagner is not fully sold on Medvedeva.

“Time will tell,” said Wagner, who has joked that she needs to skate like “a robot” to compete with Medvedeva. “She is not part of this normal cycle of Russian athletes. I feel like they have one or two seasons of dominance, and then they kind of disappear. So we will see what happens to her, but she seems to be going very strong.”

Medvedeva, whose mom was a skater, started in the sport at age 3, inspired like many by the great Yevgeny Plushenko.

Figure skating is popular and storied in Russia, but Medvedeva is rarely recognized back home, where she still spends weekends watching cartoons. She does have more than 100,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram, though.

Medvedeva’s scores from her four international competitions this season are the four highest scores in the world, all above 220 points. This despite falling at one competition, having one jump called under-rotated at another and stepping out of a landing at another.

Nobody else in next week’s field has cracked 217 points — in their careers.

At December’s Russian Championships, Medvedeva added a second triple toe loop onto a triple Salchow-triple toe loop combination, knowing she would get zero points for the superfluous jump. She did it three minutes into her free skate (with controversial music from a film about Sept. 11, 2001), when most skaters would be tired.

Medvedeva has shown disappointment when not breaking records and talked about adding a quadruple Salchow to her arsenal. She speaks some English in interviews, even though she hasn’t taken English classes in two years, according to Icenetwork.

“Sometimes I feel like I am two people: the grown-up and the kid,” she said in the fall, according to Icenetwork. “The first one is able to understand and execute difficult programs, while the other one is just like … watching cartoons all the time!”

Medvedeva was last outscored in the short program at last year’s world championships in Boston. She placed third behind Gracie Gold and Pogorilaya, with Wagner in fourth.

In the free skate, Medvedeva and Wagner climbed to gold and silver, respectively. Wagner tallied personal bests for both programs at the 2016 Worlds, yet still finished 7.47 points behind Medvedeva.

Wagner has been unable to replicate those kinds of skates this season. In two international events, her best total is 196.44 points, which seeds her eighth going into worlds. She was also beaten by surprise Karen Chen at the U.S. Championships in January.

“This year is not the year I’m planning on peaking,” Wagner said. “Next year is the year that I am like in it to kill. … This year is my chance to work out all of the kinks, figure out where I want to be mentally going into next year and even though to some on the outside looking in, it wouldn’t look like it was the most successful season for me, I think at the end of the day this season has been exactly what I needed it to be.”

As noted, the pressure is on Wagner to lead an inexperienced U.S. team of three women in Helsinki. She’ll be joined by training partner Mariah Bell and Chen. The two worlds rookies have been less impressive than Wagner internationally this season. They’re seeded 10th and 16th.

The two best results out of Wagner, Chen and Bell must add up to no more than 13, or else the U.S. will only get two women’s spots at the Olympics for the second time in the last six Winter Games.

There is an outside chance of a Russian sweep, given the second-best skater this season, Japan’s Satoko Miyahara, withdrew due to injury. Pogorilaya, the 2016 World bronze medalist, has the next two highest scores this season after Medvedeva and Miyahara.

Russia also has Sotskova, the most impressive of the first-year senior skaters.

The experienced category is led by Osmond, having her best results since debuting as a senior in 2012, and Kostner, the six-time world medalist back after two years off. They’re seeded third and fourth.

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U.S. women’s hockey players show solildarity in portraits

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The U.S. women’s hockey team is … family, powerful, united, strong, brave, together, limitless, fierce, bold, historic, ambitious, resilient, fearless and devoted.

All 23 players on the U.S. roster planning to boycott the world championship that starts in one week posted portraits on Twitter on Friday morning. Each player held a paper with a one-word descriptor.

The players plan to boycott the world championship tournament in Plymouth, Mich., unless their wage dispute with USA Hockey is settled.

The players believed they reached an agreement with USA Hockey in a 10-hour-plus meeting Monday, but USA Hockey’s later counter offer “didn’t reflect the progress of the negotiations,” according to the players’ representatives.

USA Hockey said Thursday that it will start reaching out to potential replacement players, but it still hopes to come to an agreement to field its original team in Plymouth.

“As we have maintained from the beginning, this issue is about more than the compensation of the current team: it’s about equitable treatment for female players now and in the future,” the players said in a statement Thursday. “A forward-looking agreement will benefit the next generation of players even more than the current players. For that reason, and the fact that the younger players identify with us, we are confident that they [potential replacement players] would choose not to play.”

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