The Washington Times - August 29, 2008, 12:08AM

August 29, 2008


It looks like we’ve seen the last of Olympic baseball. The International Olympic Committee‘s decision to drop baseball - along with its counterpart, softball - from the Games became a hot button issue prior to the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Apparently, the only way they’ll put the sport back into the Olympics is to have Major League Baseball agree to halt their season for two weeks every fourth year.

Twenty years ago, none of this would have mattered because professionals weren’t allowed to compete. Mark McGwire played for Team USA in 1984 as a member of the USC Trojans; had he signed with the Oakland A’s before the Los Angeles Games, he would have been ineligible. More telling, though, is that there were far fewer foreign players in the majors, meaning that the suspension of play would have affected only the Americans. 2008 is a different story. Japan, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Mexico, Cuba any many other nations all have superstars playing here in the states and making big money, so the effect is global.

MLB created an alternative to the Olympics in the form of the World Baseball Classic, which is played in March and affects only the exhibition season, which the MLB brass can apparently live with. The WBC gives players the opportunity to represent their respective countries while competing against the world’s best, but they won’t get the full Olympic experience of waving their country’s flag at the Opening Ceremonies or bonding with countrymen and women from other sports. Nonetheless, as a high-profile tournament that provides its own stage, I like the WBC. I never thought Olympic baseball got as much exposure as it deserved.

Team USA had some unfinished business to take care of in China before the curtain fell on Olympic baseball for good. The squad of minor leaguers and standout collegiate hurler Stephen Strasburg of San Diego State played well enough in pool play to qualify third and earn a date against defending champ Cuba. The U.S. was looking to reclaim the gold it couldn’t defend in Athens four years ago after failing to qualify.

Unfortunately, the Americans fell behind early and never threatened the Cubans in a 10-2 loss. Cuba built a 3-0 lead before Team USA got on the board in the bottom half of the fourth inning. They were able to cut the deficit to one in the fifth, but that was as close as they would get. A six-run eighth inning by Cuba buried the Americans’ hopes of gold and relegated the squad to the bronze-medal game the next day.

South Korea remained undefeated by downing Japan 6-2 in the other semifinal, which meant the U.S. would have to beat the Japanese contingent if they wanted a medal. Japan got on the board first, but the U.S. battled back to take a 4-1 lead into the third. Japan came right back to tie the game in the bottom half of the inning before the Americans put the game away in the fifth by plating four runs. That would be the last of the scoring, as the U.S. bullpen shut down Japan to claim the bronze.

A silver lining for Team USA was the loss its rival Cuba suffered in the final to South Korea. Although it wasn’t nearly as improbable as Fresno State ripping through the NCAA’s to capture the College World Series title, not too many people foresaw unheralded South Korea going undefeated in Beijing and taking the gold. As for the U.S., they’re left with bronze consolation prizes and a bunch of “what if?”s.

Boyd’s World

I was surfing the net the other day and came across a website that I now frequent, especially during the college baseball season. I’m not really sure if the site’s creator will keep it going after 2008 since he’s a married man with a stable day job, but I’ve always wanted more college baseball coverage; that’s one of the reasons I agreed to write this weekly column for National Pastime. Baseball America does an admirable job of covering the national scene and popular websites like ESPN and Rivals also do solid work as well, but other than the major polls, I had never seen an RPI or weighted poll based on schedule and opponent. Until I came across Boyd’s World, that is.

Boyd’s World was created by a Mississippi State graduate who developed a rating system similar to the RPI that he calls the ISR, or Iterative Strength Ratings. It takes into account a team’s winning percentage and strength of schedule through a mathematical algorithm and produces rankings. I like this type of system because a lot of schools play local squads, crush them, end up with 50 wins and then make an unceremonious exit from postseason play.

Interestingly enough, his top-rated squad in 2008, Arizona State, did exactly that, losing a Super Regional to eventual champion and the Cinderella stories of all Cinderella stories, Fresno State. There’s no doubt that the Bulldogs’ run through the 2008 postseason was a statistical anomaly and if it happens again this year I’m moving to the Caribbean because the end of America must be imminent. But seriously, if you look at the overall picture it’s pretty accurate. Nine of the top 12 made it to Super Regional play. The biggest surprise? Georgia, who was listed at No. 23. The Bulldogs made it all the way to the championship series before falling short of their dream. 

The moral of this story is that I think Boyd is on to something here and I’m throwing my support his way. He doesn’t just stop at the ISR either. He has something called the EFI, or External Factor Index, which rates a team’s home field advantage, so to speak. It factors in things such as the weather and the size of the school and academic standards. To put it bluntly, this guy has done his homework. I could go on and on, but you’re better served to check it out for yourself. If you love college baseball - and if you’re still reading this I’m guessing you do - do yourself a favor and check out Boyd’s World.

Tom Stad’s Amateur Hour runs every Friday here on National Pastime.

Be sure to check out our previous Amateur Hour columns: To sign or not to sign?, Summer on Cape Cod, USA Baseball, etc., Team USA; Cape stars, Stars shine on Cape, Olympics preview, Will top picks sign?, NY’s loss UCLA’s gain.