Baseball

Remember them? José Bautista one of several notable Olympic baseball players

Former Toronto Blue Jays slugger José Bautista — he of the iconic bat-flip — is among several Olympic baseball players with major-league pedigree. Here are some other notable names from MLB seasons past who are vying for gold at Tokyo 2020.

Former Blue Jays slugger playing for Dominican Republic in 6-team tournament

Former Toronto Blue Jays slugger José Bautista is part of the Dominican Republic's roster as baseball returns to the Olympics. (Sam Navarro/USA Today Sports/Reuters)

With no Team Canada to cheer for at the Olympic baseball tournament, Toronto Blue Jays fans can still root for one of the franchise's more memorable players at Tokyo 2020.

José Bautista — whose iconic bat flip after launching the go-ahead home run against the Texas Rangers in Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS is worthy of a Canadian Heritage Moment — is among several Olympic baseball players with major-league pedigree.

Bautista, who set a Blue Jays record with 54 regular-season home runs in 2010, is representing the Dominican Republic in the six-team Olympic tournament. With no active MLB players at the Olympics, the majority of teams' rosters are comprised of minor league players and those plying their trade in leagues around the world.

The 40-year-old isn't the only Toronto alumnus on the Dominican squad; fellow veterans Melky Cabrera and Emilio Bonifácio are also on the Olympic roster. The Dominican Republic opens the tournament against host Japan on Tuesday at 11 p.m. ET.

With baseball's return to the Olympic stage for the first time since 2008 — the year Bautista was traded to the Blue Jays, go figure — here's a look at some of the competitors you might remember from MLB seasons past.

Mexico: Adrián González

The sure-handed, sweet-swinging first baseman was a mainstay in NL West baseball, with memorable stints in San Diego and Los Angeles separated by a brief but productive tenure in Boston.

González earned Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in both the American and National leagues and was a five-time all-star selection. While his bat will be critical to Mexico's chances at the tournament, pitchers like Manny Bañuelos and Fernando Salas will be relied on heavily at the Games.

During the prime of his career, Adrián González was one of the most well-rounded first basemen in the majors. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

United States: Eddy Alvarez

There are plenty of notable names on the U.S. roster, including longtime Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir and 2015 Home Run Derby winner Todd Frazier, but Alvarez may have the most unique resumé in Olympic baseball.

Alvarez, who won silver in short track speed skating at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, joined the Miami Marlins during the pandemic-shortened 2020 MLB season when the team experienced a massive COVID-19 outbreak. Due to the number of players impacted, the Marlins roster was overhauled to the point that it was more Major League than major-league calibre.

Now back with Miami's Triple-A affiliate, Alvarez — who joined basketball icon Sue Bird as the two U.S. flag bearers at the opening ceremony — will be a key part of a U.S. team that also features highly touted prospects like Triston Casas and Simeon Woods Richardson, as well as ultimate journeyman pitcher Edwin Jackson.

Japan: Masahiro Tanaka

The former New York Yankees hurler returned to Japanese pro baseball earlier this year after spending seven strong years in the Bronx. Tanaka, a two-time all-star with nearly 1,000 MLB strikeouts to his name, has rounded into form in recent starts with the Rakuten Eagles and is the undisputed ace of the Olympic tournament.

Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka spent seven years as a key part of the New York Yankees' rotation. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Japan's roster is stacked with talented players from Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), including a pair of young stars who should be on MLB scouts' radars as the hosts look to win gold.

Munetaka Murakami, a 21-year-old slugger, has put up massive home run numbers in his brief career with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, while 22-year-old Orix Buffaloes pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the strikeout leader in NPB so far this season, with 121 Ks.

Israel: Ian Kinsler

There have been many great Jewish baseball players in MLB history — Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax and Kevin Youkilis come to mind. While baseball isn't a traditionally popular sport in Israel, the surprise success of Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic and an Olympic appearance could change that.

The 2017 WBC saw a roster of mostly U.S.-born players eligible for Israeli citizenship due to their lineage earn upset wins over international baseball Goliaths like South Korea, Cuba and the Netherlands (don't believe me about De Oranje? Xander Bogaerts, Andrelton Simmons and Didi Gregorius would beg to differ.)

Kinsler — a slick-fielding infielder with four all-star appearances to his name — wasn't on the 2017 roster, but was among the U.S.-born players who acquired Israeli citizenship and helped Israel qualify for Tokyo 2020. Other MLB vets include Danny Valencia and Ryan Lavarnway, while pitcher Josh Zeid was critical to Israel's WBC success.

Ian Kinsler, who won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2018, helped Israel qualify for Tokyo 2020. (Jim Young/The Associated Press)

South Korea: Hyun-soo Kim

Alright, so Kim may not have had the most heralded MLB career, but he did display some home run pop with the Baltimore Orioles in 2016 and remains a consistent hitter with the LG Twins of Korea Baseball Organization (KBO).

But don't count out South Korea based on it's lack of MLB experience. As the defending Olympic champions after winning gold in 2008, the team could very well win it again this year with a roster loaded with KBO talent.

Baek-ho Kang of the KT Wiz is batting .395 to lead the KBO this season, while catcher Eu-ji Yang has hit 20 home runs for the NC Dinos — good enough for a three-way tie for the league lead. On the mound, Samsung Lions pitcher Tae-in Won is having a breakout season; the 21-year-old owns a 10-4 record with a 1.20 WHIP and 76 strikeouts.

Hyun-soo Kim's MLB tenure may have been brief, but he's part of a talented South Korea roster loaded with players from the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). (Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Benjamin Blum

Senior writer

Benjamin Blum is a senior writer with CBC News and previously worked with CBC Sports in the same capacity. He holds a master's of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now