The summer of 1984 was a perfect one for Scott Bankhead.
Literally, perfect. He didn’t lose a game.
The righthander out of the University of North Carolina went 10-0 for the Tar Heels during the college season, then produced a 5-0 mark with an eye-popping 0.86 ERA over 42 innings pitched with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team – a team that finished with a silver medal in the ’84 Olympics in Los Angeles.
“I think as I went into professional baseball and we played in instructional league, there might have been a game I lost there,” Bankhead says. “But as far as the Collegiate National Team, UNC, the Olympic Team, there was no other competition I played that year so I guess I didn’t lose any.”
While this year marks the 34th Anniversary of that flawless summer for Bankhead, he still recalls with detail the sound of Dodger Stadium when Team USA hit the field for the Games. It was loud. The adrenalin was pumping. Demonstration sport or not, these were teams with elite athletes from around the world – traditional baseball powerhouses – looking to validate their presumed dominance.
“I think the attendance on average for the 1984 Games was around 47,000-49,000 fans per game,” Bankhead says, “so it was obviously loud. And when USA played it was a lot louder than the other games.”
When the USA team played, the wave – a new phenomenon at ballparks around the country at the time – would circulate, raising the volume even more.
Talk about home field advantage. . .
Team USA captured the silver medal that year, but the experiences those college kids lived is greater than gold. And then there was Collegiate National Team Coach Rod Dedeaux, already a legend at USC, but now leading a group of 20 young men into the Olympics. Few who ever played for Dedeaux can ever forget him. Even if he forgot names himself, or never bothered to learn them in the first place.
“He was always having fun with the guys,” Bankhead says, “trying to get to know you. But everyone was known as Tiger. I don’t know if he knew anyone’s real name, but everyone was Tiger and that’s just how he went about it each and every day.”
Fast forward to today, and Bankhead will again wear the red, white and blue, this time as the pitching coach of the 2018 USA Baseball 18U Team. His experience with the ’84 team and his 10-year career in the big leagues after being selected by Kansas City in the first round (16th overall) of the 1984 MLB Draft make him a natural to work with the young arms on the team.
Coaching isn’t new for Bankhead, who founded the North Carolina Baseball Academy in Greensboro, N.C., in 1998 and still owns the facility, working with young players looking to improve their games. He also served as an 18U National Team Trials coach in 2016 and 2017.
“It’s still exciting,” Bankhead says of his role with USA Baseball. “I mean, it’s very, very exciting to be a part of USA Baseball. My perspective now is I’m just in a different role. I still get nervous with the uniform on when I go to the ballpark for a game – not quite as much as when I was a player – but I still have that feeling of, hey, this is a competition and I’m going to be a part of it and I’m going to somehow, hopefully, have an influence on us winning that game on that particular day.”
But now he’s walking to the mound, and not working from it.
“I think what I’m going to get out of my experience as a coach, and always have, is giving something back to the game,” he says. “If there is a way for me to help a young person physically – if it’s a mechanical thing – great. If it’s a mental thing, great. And these guys have so much ability, that I think the mental aspect of the game and their ability to prepare and have a plan each and every day can probably help them more than anything I can do mechanically as far as a pitch goes or a delivery goes. They’re obviously very talented and those things are in place.”
Bankhead may be selling himself a bit short. After all, he’s the one that fashioned a perfect 10-0 record wearing the red, white and blue, and he was at the receiving end of one of Dedeaux’s “Tiger” callouts.
The coach passed away in 2006, so, sadly, few in this current group of 18U players ever saw firsthand the positive effect he had on the development of the USA Baseball organization. And that’s where guys like Bankhead come in. He can remind those kids, just like Dedeaux reminded that 1984 team, that baseball is fun. And that they should never take the game for granted.
“Coach Dedeaux had a great energy level, a great enthusiasm for the game,” says Bankhead. “He was already a legend in the coaching ranks with all the national championships he won at Southern Cal, but he had an energy level every day that made it fun for us to be part of that team.”
Many of the elite players that come through the 18U ranks will have opportunities to sign professionally, either before or after college. They can look to Bankhead to give them a sense of what to expect and how to handle some of the situations that come with scouts, innings pitched, projections. Bankhead made his major league debut at the age of 22 in 1986, going 8-9 with a 4.61 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 121 innings pitched. By the time he made his big-league debut, Bankhead already was a known commodity among baseball card collectors, having been included by Topps in the company’s Team USA card subset in packs of 1985 Topps Baseball. That set helped promote USA Baseball to a significantly bigger fan base, and helped – even a year later – introduce fans to many of the players from the 1984 team. Bankhead has signed countless numbers of that card over the years.
Despite being a former first round pick, the Royals traded Bankhead to the Seattle Mariners in a deal that brought KC Danny Tartabull.
Over his 10 seasons Bankhead pitched for the Royals, Mariners, Reds, Red Sox and Yankees. He went 57-48 over his career, hurling 901 innings. He owes much of his development to USA Baseball, which taught him how to compete – both against his peers when a group of 30 players were vying for 20 spots on the ’84 Collegiate National Team, and against the opposition while standing on the mound. He’s got a silver medal as a parting gift from his playing days wearing the red, white and blue. Kept in a safe, Bankhead can look at it anytime he wishes to reminisce.
“It’s pretty cool to know that it’s there and I can look at it anytime,” he says. “USA Baseball has meant the world to me. It was the greatest sports experience and greatest sports thrill that I have ever had. And people always say, ‘Well, what about your 10 years at the major league level?’ That was great and was a culmination of a good baseball career.
“But my greatest sports thrill was to be able to put the USA jersey on, play in the Olympic Games, represent my country, win the medal and have these lifelong memories that I’ll never forget.”
For Bankhead, it’s been a perfect ride.