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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 June, 2004, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Baseball without the Americans
By Alex Trickett

Roger Clemens
Clemens had expressed his desire to play at the Olympics

Some things in sport don't add up.

Olympic boxing without the Cubans would be strange. A World Cup without Brazil would be downright bizarre.

But baseball without the Americans - surely that could never happen?

Well, incredibly it has, at the Athens Games of 2004.

After being beaten 2-1 by Mexico in the quarter-finals of their American qualifying sector, the defending champions will be on the wrong side of the Atlantic this August.

You have to believe that the USA should be in the Olympics
Tommy Lasorda
LA Dodgers coach

The news was greeted by more than a modicum of surprise by LA Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda, who led an inexperienced team to gold in 2000.

"Baseball is our game," he said.

"We're the ones who started to play this game aren't we? We're the ones who have the best players aren't we? Then you have to believe that the USA should be in the Olympics."

His sounds rather like the reasoned argument of an Englishman after another desperate football campaign.

But he has a point.

Even without the likes of Barry Bonds, Derek Jeter and Roger Clemens to call on (none of whom appeared during November qualifying), the USA should have enough talent.

Barry Bonds
Bonds will be among US stars missing from Athens

It is also surprising to some that a sport as heavily associated with the 50 US states and a couple of bordering Canadian ones, has the global reach to go on without its founders.

In fact though, there were plenty of would-be participants from Venezuela to Japan and only eight places available in Greece.

The USA's qualification was tough with baseball powerhouses Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Canada - each of which has many MLB players - in competition.

And there is little doubt they would have coasted past less established qualifiers from other regions like Italy, Chinese Taipei or indeed the hosts, who qualified by right.

But there is no call for post-defeat sour grapes.

Paul Seiler, executive director of USA Baseball, called into question the whole qualifying structure after the Mexico loss.

Let's build a system so that you know your best are going to be there
Paul Seiler
USA Baseball chief

"In my humble opinion, the three medallists from Sydney should have been automatic," he said.

"If it's important to the world to have the USA and Cuba and Japan and some of the other powers at the Games, let's build a system so that you know your best are going to be there."

Make no mistake, the USA will be missed at the Olympics, but that sort of attitude may not be.

Qualifying is about giving the underdog (Mexico) a shot at toppling the top dog.

There are compatibility problems between the MLB season (which ends in October) and the Olympics (which usually takes place in August).

So most US stars would have sat out in favour of their league - largely at the behest of the powerful franchise owners.

But qualifying for this Games took place last November after the World Series.

Before the USA thinks about sending a dream team (like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird's 1992 basketball outfit) to Olympic glory, it must earn the right to be there.





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