In Search of a Triple Gold Club for Baseball

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With the World Baseball Classic in progress this week, now feels like a good time to steal an idea from another sport. In baseball, the international game is a bit vestigial. There has never been a consistent international best-on-best tournament on par with the FIFA World Cup or Olympic ice hockey, in which players desire success with the national team as much as they would success with their club teams.

Baseball hasn’t had that; the Olympics, taking place as they do within the MLB regular season, never featured best-on-best competition. And that’s when the Olympic program includes baseball to begin with. The World Baseball Classic hasn’t been around long enough to gain the kind of legitimacy the World Cup has, and it’s administered in part by Major League Baseball.

The biggest obstacle to a serious international game in baseball is pitcher usage. Pitcher workloads are so tightly monitored, few players and even fewer teams are willing to loan out a fragile and valuable arm to a tournament that’s widely viewed as an exhibition. The second-biggest obstacle is the lack of a powerful independent governing body for the sport; for most of the history of baseball, MLB has been its driving force. Even as various major leagues popped up around the world and the sport flourished at the amateur level, baseball has been centralized in the way hockey, soccer, and basketball never were, and the WBSC isn’t powerful enough to dictate a truly independent prestigious international competition.

Even so, the WBC now seems fully entrenched in the baseball calendar, after more than a decade of inconsistent scheduling and the constant threat of cancellation. The likes of Mike Trout and Juan Soto have made a WBC debut a priority this year, lending the event a new level of prestige.

Which brings up the idea I want to steal: The Triple Gold Club.

Men’s hockey, in contrast to baseball, has a robust history of high-level international competition, dating from the 1920 Summer Olympics and its inclusion in every Winter Olympics since that event’s founding in 1924. (Women’s ice hockey first held a world championship in 1990 and became an Olympic event starting with the 1998 Nagano Games). The IIHF has sanctioned senior men’s world championships for almost 100 years, with various age group tournaments generating international attention in their own right. When Olympic scheduling and regulations have kept top North American pros out of the Games, the NHL, with various partners, has occasionally promoted best-on-best tournaments in the form of the Canada Cup and World Cup of Hockey.

Because of this longstanding tradition of international hockey, the IIHF tracks members of what’s called the Triple Gold Club — the 30 players and one coach who have won a Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal, and an IIHF World Championship gold medal.

Is there an equivalent in baseball? Not really. Hockey has not one but two senior international championships that equal or exceed the WBC in stature. So what could an alternative understanding of a Triple Gold Club be?

One option would be to select players who have won championships at each of the sport’s three levels: amateur, professional, and international. That would include players who have won 1) a College World Series, a Japanese Koshien title, or what the heck, a Little League World Series 2) a World Series and 3) an Olympic or WBC title.

And someone’s actually done it: Daisuke Matsuzaka, who won both spring and summer Koshien in 1998, the WBC in 2006 and 2009, the Japan Series in 2004 and 2017, and the World Series in 2007. Mark Kotsay came excruciatingly close to completing the triple in just over two years: He won the College World Series with Cal State Fullerton in 1995, then an Olympic bronze medal in 1996, then he played 14 games with the Florida Marlins in 1997 but did not take part in their run to the World Series.

And several participants in this year’s WBC have amateur titles. Jonathan Schoop and Jurickson Profar won the Little League World Series in 2004, and there are three College World Series winners on WBC rosters — if you know who they are off the top of your head, you deserve some kind of prize.

None of those College World Series winners (Brady Singer, Florida 2017, Team USA; Michael Roth, South Carolina 2010 and 2011, Team Great Britain; Zander Wiel, Vanderbilt 2014, Netherlands) has won a World Series. In fact, only four active players, all Americans, have done the College World Series-World Series double: Justin Turner, Walker Buehler, Dansby Swanson, and Jackie Bradley Jr. The only player to win a WBC and a College World Series is Sam Dyson, who is unlikely to get a chance to win a World Series anytime soon.

That gets into a couple thorny aspects of including amateur competitions in baseball’s Triple Gold Club: It eliminates the majority of professional baseball players who didn’t come up through specific Japanese or American talent pipelines. And while a player can complete the legs of hockey’s Triple Gold Club in any order, the same could not be said of a baseball Triple Gold Club that has an amateur component.

That opens an obvious alternative: the World Series, the WBC, and the Olympics. This definition has been complicated a bit by the irregular scheduling of both the Olympics and WBC, and the fact that the two haven’t been on the calendar reliably at the same time. Moreover, active major leaguers have never participated in the Olympics, though NBP does send its stars and plenty of American stars participated or even medaled in the Olympics either before or after their big league careers.

This definition of the Triple Gold Club isn’t particularly fruitful because only two countries — Japan and the U.S. — have won both the Olympic gold medal and the WBC, and in both cases, their Olympic and WBC titles came more than a decade apart:

International Baseball Tournaments
Year Competition Winner
1984 Olympics* Japan
1988 Olympics* United States
1992 Olympics Cuba
1996 Olympics Cuba
2000 Olympics United States
2004 Olympics Cuba
2006 WBC Japan
2008 Olympics South Korea
2009 WBC Japan
2013 WBC Dominican Republic
2017 WBC United States
2021 Olympics Japan
2023 WBC TBD
*Demonstration sport

The only player to win both is Masahiro Tanaka, who won the 2009 WBC as a 20-year-old and then took home Olympic gold in 2021. As Yankees fans would no doubt remind you, Tanaka never won a World Series during his time in North America despite numerous trips to the playoffs. But he did win a Japan Series in 2013, so a liberal interpretation of this Triple Gold Club would make him a member. (Matsuzaka’s best finish at the Olympics was a bronze medal in 2004.) Other players have come up just short: David Robertson won a World Series with the Yankees in 2009, the WBC in 2017, and an Olympic silver medal in 2021, while Yuli Gurriel has gold and silver Olympic medals, a World Series, and a WBC silver medal.

Keen observers will note that while Japan is not taking Tanaka to this WBC, it is bringing nine players who won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Six of those were also on the team that won the WBSC Premier12 in 2019, and while none of them has played a competitive MLB game yet, six of them have, like Tanaka, won the Japan Series:

Team Japan, Tokyo Olympics and 2023 WBC
Player 2019 Premier 12 Japan Series Champion
Hiromi Itoh No No
Yoshinobu Yamamoto Yes 2022
Ryoji Kuribayashi No No
Takuya Kai Yes 2014-15, 2017-2020
Tetsuto Yamada Yes 2021
Sosuke Genda Yes No
Munetaka Murkami No 2021
Kensuke Kondo Yes 2016
Masataka Yoshida Yes 2022

South Korea has never won the WBC, but two members of the 2023 team won Olympic gold at the 2008 Beijing Games. They and three current teammates were also on the team that took home the first Premier12 title in 2015:

South Korea’s International Champions
Player 2008 Olympics 2015 Premier 12 Korean Series Champion
Kwang Hyun Kim 김광현 Yes Yes 2007, 2008, 2010, 2018, 2022
Hyun Soo Kim 김현수 Yes Yes 2015
Sung-bum Na 나성범 No Yes 2020
ByungHo Park 박병호 No Yes No
Euiji Yang 양의지 No Yes 2015, 2016, 2020

And of course any mention of Hyun Soo Kim is a good excuse to spend the rest of the day jamming out to his extremely catchy theme song:

Hockey’s Triple Gold Club doesn’t view league titles won in Russia or Sweden or Finland — prestigious as they might be — as equivalent to the Stanley Cup. So while winning a Japan Series, a WBC title, and an Olympic gold medal is impressive, it’s not the same as adding a World Series to the mix. So far, no Japanese or Korean player has won Olympic gold and a World Series. Yoshida is the only one of these players currently signed to an MLB team; the Red Sox aren’t among the favorites to win the World Series this season, but he could add a World Series title to his résumé somewhere down the line.

Using the strict definition of Triple Gold Club — Olympics, World Series, WBC — nobody has completed all three legs, but numerous players have managed to go two-thirds of the way. (This list includes the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, in which baseball wasn’t officially a medal event.):

Two Legs of the Triple Gold Club
Player Country Olympics WBC World Series
Ed Sprague Jr. United States 1988 No 1992, 1993
Tino Martinez United States 1988 No 1996, 1998-2000
Pat Borders United States 2000 No 1992, 1993
Doug Mientkiewicz United States 2000 No 2004
José Contreras Cuba 1996 No 2005
Daisuke Matsuzaka Japan No 2006, 2009 2007
Robinson Canó Dominican Republic No 2013 2009
Santiago Casilla Dominican Republic No 2013 2010, 2012, 2014
Koji Uehara Japan No 2006 2013
Kelvin Herrera Dominican Republic No 2013 2015
Francisco Peña* Dominican Republic No 2013 2015
Edinson Volquez Dominican Republic No 2013 2015
Pedro Strop Dominican Republic No 2013 2016
Luke Gregerson United States No 2017 2017
Tyler Clippard* United States No 2017 2017
Buster Posey United States No 2017 2010, 2012, 2014
Alex Wilson* United States No 2017 2013
Eric Hosmer United States No 2017 2015
Alex Bregman United States No 2017 2017, 2022
David Robertson United States No 2017 2009
Danny Duffy United States No 2017 2015
Brandon Crawford United States No 2017 2012, 2014
Yuli Gurriel Cuba 2004 No 2017, 2022
Fernando Rodney Dominican Republic No 2013 2019
Masahiro Tanaka Japan 2021 2009 No
*Played in regular season for World Series champions and remained in organization, but did not appear in playoffs

Of the players who already have two legs of the Triple Gold Club, Canó and Strop are the only ones returning for 2023. Strop has switched allegiances from the Dominican Republic to the Netherlands for this tournament, and winning with the Dutch would be a unique achievement. But in addition to the 11 Olympic gold medalists set to participate in the WBC, 39 World Series champions could add another leg to their Triple Gold Club campaign:

World Series Winners in the 2023 WBC
Player Country World Series Title(s)
Rob Zastryzny Canada 2016
Freddie Freeman Canada 2021
Tzu-Wei Lin* Chinese Taipei 2018
Roenis Elías* Cuba 2019
Johnny Cueto Dominican Republic 2015
Rafael Devers Dominican Republic 2018
Juan Soto Dominican Republic 2019
Bryan Abreu Dominican Republic 2022
Cristian Javier Dominican Republic 2022
Héctor Neris Dominican Republic 2022
Jeremy Peña Dominican Republic 2022
Rafael Montero Dominican Republic 2022
Ronel Blanco* Dominican Republic 2022
Ryan Lavarnway* Israel 2013
Adam Kolarek Israel 2020
Joc Pederson Israel 2020, 2021
Austin Barnes Mexico 2020
Julio Urías Mexico 2020
José Urquidy Mexico 2022
Xander Bogaerts Netherlands 2013, 2018
Kenley Jansen Netherlands 2020
Cheslor Cuthbert* Nicaragua 2015
Javier Báez Puerto Rico 2016
Christian Vázquez Puerto Rico 2018, 2022
Enrique Hernández Puerto Rico 2020
Eddie Rosario Puerto Rico 2021
Martín Maldonado Puerto Rico 2022
Adam Wainwright United States 2006
Kyle Schwarber United States 2016
Mookie Betts United States 2018, 2020
Trea Turner United States 2019
Kyle Tucker United States 2022
Ryan Pressly United States 2022
Miguel Cabrera Venezuela 2003
Salvador Perez Venezuela 2015
Jose Altuve Venezuela 2017, 2022
Eduardo Rodriguez Venezuela 2018
Ronald Acuña Jr.* Venezuela 2021
Luis Garcia Venezuela 2022
*Played in regular season for World Series champions and remained in organization, but did not appear in playoffs

Some of these players are better situated than others to win a title. The only thing I really learned from making this list is that we might be sleeping on the Dominican Republic, which brought basically the Astros’ entire unhittable bullpen from last year. You can just about talk yourself into Mexico or Israel making a run, but I’m not holding my breath for Canada or Nicaragua.

But most of the favored teams have players who could add another third of the Triple Gold Club with a victory at this year’s WBC. After that, it’s down to how Yoshida’s tenure with the Red Sox goes, or how successfully the players from the Americans can lobby (or bribe, most likely) the IOC to put baseball back on the Olympic program full-time.

Note: This article has been updated to include several members of the American team that won the 2017 WBC, but were omitted from the original.

Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic,, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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18 days ago

I thought the ToddFather had a shot to qualify – he got the difficult one done by winning a Little League World Series. I figured he hung out on the bench in one of his later years and picked up a ring that way, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. And he was only able to get a Silver in the 2020 Olympics. Close, but no cigar.