From Memphis Ballplayers to Olympic Athletes
The 2014 Winter Olympics have officially kicked off in Sochi and even though snow and baseball don’t normally mix, the great sport is always on our mind here at AutoZone Park.
Baseball became an official medal sport in 1992 when Barcelonia, Spain hosted the ceremonies. It lasted until 2008 when the Olympic Committee decided to cut baseball and softball after the ’08 Beijing Olympics. They were the first two sports erased in 69 years.
Since 1992, a total of 20 former Memphis alum have coached or played in the games. Here are what happened to just a few of them.
1992: Michael Tucker (USA)
Tucker hit .279 during his 72 games in 1993 with the Double-A Memphis Chicks. He amassed a twelve-year big league career, playing for seven different teams. In 1992, a year in which the average age for the USA Olympic baseball team was just over 20 years old and the youngest player was Nomar Garciaparra, Tucker took on the designated hitter role for the U.S. Olympic side. Tucker helped the U.S. score just under six runs in their nine games. The team finished in the top four and advanced to the next round, but could not climb any higher. Cuba would go on to defeat Chinese Taipei to win the gold.
1996: Troy Glaus (USA)
Glaus donned the USA jersey in the ’96 Olympic games. In typical Glaus fashion, many photos from the games reveal him with his pants rolled up to show his high, blue socks. He played third base in all 9 games for the Stars and Stripes, accumulating four longballs and five RBIs. The American squad would improve from their past performance, grabbing a bronze medal in their defeat over Nicaragua. During his short time with the Redbirds, the infielder whacked three home runs and hit .216 in 15 games during a rehab assignment.
2004: Stubby Clapp (CAN)
Making his first of two appearances for the Canadian baseball team, Clapp and his teammates fell just short of medaling. Combined between the team’s nine games, he notched eight hits and five RBIs. After losing two of their first three games, Clapp helped the team to victory in their next four which advanced them to the next round. The second baseman’s efforts past that fell short. Cuba went on to take another gold and Japan defeated the Canadians in the bronze medal game. The ‘04 games would be Clapp’s best shot at a medal as the 2008 Canadian team couldn’t make it past the round robin games.
Clapp played some 425 games for Memphis in his four years with the team, scoring 258 times. He is best known for performing backflips when taking the field and having his number 10 jersey retired by the Redbirds. Clapp got a taste of the majors in 2001, going 5-for-25 with two doubles and an RBI. On a side note, the 2004 Olympic Team Media Guide stated that Clapp’s first experience with Olympic baseball came at age 12, appearing as the batboy for the U.S. team during a qualification tournament that took place in Canada.
2008: Rick Eckstein (USA)
Recently retired Davey Johnson managed the 2008 USA squad and selected former Redbirds’ hitting coach Rick Eckstein to fill the same position. Eckstein is the only former Memphis alum to be a coach during the Olympics. Under Eckstein’s coaching, the club scored the third most runs by any squad in the tournament. The team averaged more than eight hits in their nine games en route to a 6-3 record and another bronze medal. During the 2007 season under Eckstein’s coaching, the Redbirds finsihed second to last in team hitting. The two parted ways following the season when Eckstein joined the Washington Nationals staff and Memphis hired current hitting coach Mark Budaska.