August 4, 1938|
|Died: January 26, 1981
|April 18, 1965 for the Detroit Tigers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 1, 1970 for the California Angels|
|Career highlights and awards|
Raymond Francis Oyler (August 4, 1938 – January 26, 1981) was an American Major League Baseball shortstop. He played for the Detroit Tigers (1965–1968), Seattle Pilots (1969) and California Angels (1970). He is best remembered as the slick-fielding, no-hit shortstop for the 1968 World Series champion Tigers and as the subject of the "Ray Oyler Fan Club" organized by Seattle radio personality Robert E. Lee Hardwick (of the Pilots flagship radio station KVI) in Seattle.
Detroit Tigers (1965–1968)
Oyler was signed by the Tigers in 1960 as an amateur free agent, making his major league debut with Detroit on April 18, 1965.
In 1967, the Tigers moved McAuliffe from shortstop to second base, opening a spot for Oyler as the Tigers' starting shortstop. Oyler played a career-high 147 games at shortstop in 1967 and had career-highs with 185 putouts, 374 assists, and 61 double plays. As an everyday player in 1967, Oyler also increased his batting average to .207—the only year in which he hit above .200. He was also third in the American League with 15 sacrifice hits in 1967.
1968 World Series: Mayo Smith's shortstop gamble
When Oyler, always a light hitter, famously went "0 for August," Smith moved outfielder Mickey Stanley to the shortstop position for the last nine games of the regular season and for all seven games of the 1968 World Series. Oyler's batting average had dropped to .135, and Smith had four quality outfielders in Willie Horton, Jim Northrup, Al Kaline, and Mickey Stanley. Stanley had not played the shortstop position before the 1968 season, but was a talented athlete with a good glove.
Stanley returned to play 59 games at shortstop the next year, while Oyler was allowed to be drafted by the expansion Seattle Pilots.
The Ray Oyler "S.O.C. I.T. T.O. M.E. .300 Club" in Seattle (1969)
Oyler was left unprotected in the expansion draft after the 1968 season and was the third player drafted by the Seattle Pilots. Before the Pilots even played their first game in 1969, Seattle radio disc jockey Robert E. Lee "Bob" Hardwick looked over the list of players drafted by the Pilots, discovered Oyler's batting average and created the "Ray Oyler Fan Club," initially as a radio bit on his radio show.
Grabbing onto the popularity of the late 1960s Laugh-In show's "Sock it to Me" catchphrase, the fan club was called the Ray Oyler "S.O.C. I.T. T.O. M.E. .300" Club, meaning "Slugger Oyler Can, In Time, Top Our Manager's Estimate" and hit .300. Some 15,000 baseball-starved fans signed up, and former Pilots relief pitcher Jack Aker recalled that the Ray Oyler Fan Club was out in great number at Sicks Stadium on the Pilots Opening Day. The fan club even gave Oyler a car to use and an apartment too. When Oyler came to bat for the first time on Opening Day, the Oyler Fan Club went wild. "He got cheers, horns blew, confetti filled the air in his first time at bat."
In April 1969, Jim Campanis of the Kansas City Royals punched Oyler during a game. The Ray Oyler Fan Club sent a telegram to Royals general manager Cedric Tallis, protesting Campanis' actions and saying: "Please do not misinterpret our motto 'Sock it to Ray Oyler,' as this is an expression of encouragement." The Oyler Fan Club also developed and sang songs, such as "Hey Ray Oyler yer Bat's Too Small."  Former fan club members still boast that Oyler holds the all-time Pilots records for assists, putouts, and home runs by a shortstop (the Pilots played only one year, and Oyler was their shortstop).
Oyler hit seven home runs for the Pilots and increased his batting average to .165.
In December 1969, Oyler was traded to the Oakland A's with pitcher Diego Segui for infielder Ted Kubiak and pitcher George Lauzerique. Oyler was sold by Oakland in April 1970 and played his final 24 games with the California Angels, with a perfect fielding percentage and a .083 average at the plate. After his major league career ended, Oyler was a player-coach for the Hawaii Islanders and Salt Lake City teams of the Pacific Coast League before retiring in 1973.
After Oyler retired from baseball, he settled in the Seattle area, working for the Safeway supermarket chain, managing a bowling alley in Bellevue, Washington and working at Boeing. Oyler played slowpitch softball in Seattle from 1973-1980 and also occasionally pitched batting practice for the Tigers when they were in Seattle playing the Mariners. He suffered a heart attack at his Redmond, Washington home on January 26, 1981, and died at the age of 42. He is buried in an unmarked grave at Sunset Hills Memorial Park, Bellevue.
In a May 2007 article, Oyler's former Detroit roommate, Denny McLain, claimed that Oyler was "an alcoholic" who "died prematurely." One of the authoritative histories of the team also reports that many of the 1968 Tigers drank "a lot," that Oyler was "later in AA" and that "alcohol may have adversely affected (Oyler's) career."
- "Seattle Pilots Players - Ray Oyler". Seattlepilots.com. 1998-07-04. Retrieved 2013-05-18.
- "Retrosheet Boxscore: Detroit Tigers 8, St. Louis Cardinals 1". Retrosheet.org. 1968-10-03. Retrieved 2013-05-18.
- "ESPN.com - ENDOFCENTURY - ESPN.com's 10 key coaching decisions". Espn.go.com. 1999-12-23. Retrieved 2013-05-18.
- More Amazing Tales from Indiana - Fred D. Cavinder - Google Boeken. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-05-18.
- iPad iPhone Android TIME TV Populist The Page (1972-05-22). "Show Business: The New Talk Jockeys". TIME. Retrieved 2013-05-18.
- "Go Seattle Majors". Retrieved 2013-05-18.
- "Sicks' Stadium / Sick's Stadium". Baseball-fever.com. Retrieved 2013-05-18.
- "Ray Oyler Baseball Statistics (1965-1970)". Thebaseballcube.com. Retrieved 2013-05-18.
- "The Players Speak: Heading Home". TheDeadballEra.com. Retrieved 2013-05-18.
- Reader, Bill. "The Seattle Times: Sports: Seattle Pilots ... Where are they now?". Seattletimes.nwsource.com. Retrieved 2013-05-18.
- "The Seattle Times: Sports: Your Seattle Pilots ... reader memories". Seattletimes.nwsource.com. Retrieved 2013-05-18.
- [dead link]
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference
- Ray Oyler Obituary from The Seattle Times
- "More Amazing Tales from Indiana"
- Ray Oyler Photographs at Seattle Pilots site