Olympic Spotlight: Baseball's Mickey Morandini, Jim Abbott and Clayton Richard

Aug. 6, 2008

by Jeff Smith
Contributor, BigTen.org

With the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games quickly approaching, BigTen.org takes a look at both former and current Olympians who have made their mark in their respective sports.  In today’s “Olympic Spotlight” feature, we take a look at the Olympic baseball careers of Mickey Morandini of Indiana and Michigan’s Jim Abbott and Clayton Richard.

1988 – Seoul (Gold)

Indiana’s Mickey Morandini helped Team USA earn the gold medal in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.  It marked the first Olympic gold for USA Baseball and only the second in the program’s history.

Morandini was lauded for his exceptional defense at second base, although he played in only one of the five games for Team USA. 

During his time at Indiana, Morandini started as a freshman in centerfield and then moved to third base and shortstop throughout his career.  Following his junior season, Morandini had an option to turn professional, but noted that he longed to play in the Olympics. 

Turning professional would have eliminated his amateur status and his chances of playing for Team USA.  While some sports such as basketball allow professional athletes to compete in the Summer Games, Olympic baseball teams could only use high school and college prodigies.  It wasn’t until the 2000 Games that the International Olympic Committee approved the usage of minor league players.

Morandini returned to Indiana following the 1988 Games to earn second-team All-America honors and graduate as the school record holder in runs (277), doubles (61), triples (29) and steals (127).

Following the Olympics, Morandini was taken in the fifth round of the 1988 MLB free agent amateur draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.  He made his debut with the team in 1990 and later helped his new ballclub to the 1993 World Series.  Morandini also earned All-Star status in 1995, becoming the first Hoosier to play in the mid-summer classic since Ted Kluszewski almost 40 years before.



Following his career in Philadelphia, Morandini spent two seasons with the Chicago Cubs and then split the 2000 campaign between the Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays before retiring.

1988 – Seoul (Gold)

Michigan’s Jim Abbott was a teammate of Indiana’s Morandini on the 1988 U.S. Olympic Team.  In fact, Abbott’s performance on the mound in the gold-medal game was the major reason behind the Americans historic win.  He was the winning pitcher in the United States’ 5-3 victory over Japan in the final.

During the 1988 Games, Abbott, who was born without a right hand, was 1-0 in two appearances with a 2.25 earned run average.  He threw a complete game in the championship and recorded two saves throughout the competition as well.  In 12 innings pitched, Abbott recorded 11 strikeouts, 11 hits, five walks and three earned runs.

Initially Abbott was drafted in the 36th round of the 1985 MLB Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.  He did not sign with the team and instead opted to play at Michigan.  He led the Wolverines to a pair of Big Ten titles and in 1987 became the first baseball pitcher to win the coveted James E. Sullivan Award as the top U.S. amateur athlete.  That same season Abbott pitched the U.S. to a silver medal at the Pan-American Games.

Prior to 1988 Olympics, Abbott was honored as the Big Ten Jesse Owens Male Athlete of the Year and was picked eight overall by the California Angels in the 1988 draft shortly thereafter.

Despite having never played a minor league game, Abbott was immediately thrown into the Angels’ starting rotation in 1989 and delivered with a 12-12 mark and a 3.92 ERA.  He finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting.

Two years later he won 18 games and his 2.89 ERA helped him finish third in the American League Cy Young Award voting.  Two years after that, now as a member of the New York Yankees, Abbott won the hearts of many as he threw a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians on Sept. 4, 1993.

After stints with the Chicago White Sox in 1995 and 1998, as well as the Milwaukee Brewers in 1999, Abbott retired with a career record of 87-108, with a 4.25 ERA.

Total Medals
* Will not compete in 2008
^ Includes Abbott & Morandini

2008 – Beijing *(Will not compete due to MLB contract)

How do you eliminate a dream come true with another?  If you are Michigan’s Clayton Richard, you are living the answer.  Just days after the former Wolverine was one of 24 players selected to compete for Team USA in Beijing, he learned he no longer had eligibility.  That is because the Chicago White Sox purchased his contract on July 21, which removed him from the U.S. Olympic Baseball roster.

After learning of his selection to Team USA, Richard told the Lafayette Journal-Courier it was a “great honor to even be considered for the team, but to be chosen, he couldn't wait for it to get started.”

Richard didn’t have to wait long to throw in the majors either.  He pitched 4.0 innings in a 10-8 win over Texas on July 23 and recently threw in losses at Minnesota and Kansas City.

Richard did have an opportunity to compete on an international level as he was the starting pitcher for Team USA in the Futures Game at the 2008 All-Star Break at Yankee Stadium.

Remarkably, Richard began his career at Michigan as a quarterback.  He switched to baseball during the 2005 season and was selected by the White Sox in the 2005 Major League Entry draft in the eighth round.