Canada's Olympic baseball team will have to compete at the Beijing Games this summer without its most popular and scrappiest player, CBCSports.ca has learned.
Baseball Canada was informed that second baseman Stubby Clapp was denied permission to play for the Olympic team.
Greg Hamilton, coach and director for the national teams, was told by the Houston Astros, who employ Clapp as a hitting coach for their Class A affiliate team in Lexington, Ky., on Monday that the Windsor, Ont., native would remain with the organization.
"The Houston Astros have turned down our request for Stubby to play for us," Hamilton told CBCSports.ca. "It's a blow. Stubby Clapp brings leadership to the team and in many ways is the face of the program."
Hamilton has spoken to Clapp "three of four times" since Monday's decision by the Astros and said the 35-year-old veteran was "obviously disappointed" he woudn't be going to Beijing.
Calls to Clapp and the Houston Astros were not immediately returned.
Astros 'had to make a tough decision'
Clapp is in his second year with the Astros organization after retiring as a full-time player. Hamilton suggested that Clapp might be leary of pushing the Olympic issue with the Astros because his contract expires on Oct. 31.
While Hamilton is disappointed with the major-league club's decision, he understands the business side of its desire to keep Clapp in Lexington.
"The last thing that I want to portray here is that the Houston Astros are cold," said Hamilton. "They had to make a tough decision. Their view is that they hired Stubby as a coach. He came to them and applied for that job as a coach, not a player."
Hamilton also said Clapp may not have been ready to play because the veteran suffered a knee injury during Canada's last Olympic qualifying game in March against Germany.
Clapp took out the German catcher at home plate but collided knees with his opponent.
Clapp had a couple of MRIs done on the knee and it hasn't responded well since he left the qualifer, according to Hamilton.
"Stubby has a physical issue that might have precluded him from playing anyway," he said. "[Neither] he nor our medical people know whether that knee would be good enough to go [for Beijing]. So he's got that issue even if he was granted permission. If we had to go to the [Olympics] today, he wouldn't be able to play.
"The worst view is he's looking at operations and the most optimistic view is he can rehab it and be ready to go."
The Astros did grant first baseman/outfielder James Van Ostrand the oppotunity to compete for Canada this summer, but Hamilton views the two decisions as separate issues.
"It wasn't easy for them to say no to Stubby," said Hamilton, who wouldn't reveal Clapp's replacement at second. "They were at a point where they needed him and for Stubby to be gone for another month was very difficult to say yes to. They weren't comfortable doing it. I have no bad feelings toward the Houston Astros and I understand where they are coming from."
A national team veteran
Clapp has been a longtime member of Canada's national team.
Drafted by the St. Louis in the 36th round of the 1996 amateur draft, Clapp played 23 games with the Cardinals and spent the rest of his career in the minor leagues.
He first made a name for himself at 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg.
During round-robin play, the underdog Canadians faced the more experienced and talented American team. Clapp walked to the plate with the bases loaded in the 11th inning and the score tied 6-6.
More than cross-border bragging rights were on the line when Clapp blooped a single that dropped between the shortstop and left-fielder to give Canada the unexpected win.
The hit turned Clapp into a Canadian cult hero and was a media darling among Canadian journalists.
Clapp then participated at the 2004 Athens Olympics where he almost helped guide Canada to a medal. The team finished fourth.
Beijing will be baseball's final Olympic appearance as the IOC dropped the sport for the 2012 Games in London. However, IOC president Jacques Rogge has urged the federation to apply for reinstatement in time for the 2016 Olympics.