Tony Oliva

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Tony Oliva
Tony Oliva 2010.jpg
Tony Oliva on April 12, 2010.
Right fielder / Designated hitter
Born: (1938-07-20) July 20, 1938 (age 75)
Pinar del Río, Cuba
Batted: Left Threw: Right
MLB debut
September 9, 1962 for the Minnesota Twins
Last MLB appearance
September 29, 1976 for the Minnesota Twins
Career statistics
Batting average .304
Home runs 220
Runs batted in 947
Teams
Career highlights and awards

Tony Pedro Oliva (born Antonio Oliva Lopez Hernandes Javique on July 20, 1938 in Pinar del Río, Cuba) is a former Major League Baseball right fielder and designated hitter. He played his entire 15-year baseball career for the Minnesota Twins (1962–1976). He batted left-handed and threw right-handed.[1] His career was hampered by knee injuries, forcing him to become a designated hitter during his final four years of baseball.

Journey to the United States[edit]

Oliva was born in Pinar del Río Province, Cuba. He played baseball weekly with his father, brothers, and neighbors in a vacant lot near the Olivas' farm. Oliva's father, who worked in a tobacco factory and was famous for rolling the leaves to make the best cigars, was also a former semi-professional player who instructed Oliva and helped him become "the best hitter in Pinar del Río".[2][3] A scout for the Minnesota Twins noticed him and brought him to the United States to play professionally. He was reluctant to leave his mother, father, and nine siblings, but his father encouraged him to become "rich and famous" in America.[3]

During spring training 1961, Oliva appeared in the Twins' final three spring training games, collecting seven hits in ten at bats. The Twins, however, had already filled their minor league rosters and released Oliva, with some saying it was due to his poor outfield play.[2][3] Having nowhere else to go, Oliva traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina to train with a friend who played for a Minnesota Twins Class A farm team. His quick wrists, long frame, and "unharnessed power" impressed Charlotte general manager Phil Howser. Howser placed a call and convinced the Twins to re-sign Oliva.

Many newspapers reported that the 21-year-old Tony Oliva was actually his 18-year-old brother Pedro Oliva[4] and much of the reason for this was due to his paperwork being changed when he got to the states to reflect the name and birthdate of his brother Pedro Jr., who was born in 1941, in order to appear younger to Major League scouts.[2] However, the name stuck and Oliva even went so far as to officially change his name to Tony Pedro Oliva in the late 1990s.[4]

Minor league career[edit]

The Twins assigned Oliva to the class-D Wytheville Twins in the Appalachian League, where he played in 64 games and led the league with a .410 batting average, but had a low fielding percentage of .854.[5] After finishing second to Orlando Cepeda in batting average in the Puerto Rico leagues in winter ball, Oliva was sent to the single-A Charlotte in the South Atlantic League, where he played 127 games and hit .350 with 17 home runs and 93 RBIs. He was called up to the major leagues with nine games left and debuted for the Twins September 9, 1962.[1]

In 1963, he was invited to spring training with the Twins and management hoped that the lefty Oliva would counterbalance their right-handed sluggers Bob Allison and Harmon Killebrew.[6] While there, he became friends with teammate, and fellow Cuban, shortstop Zoilo Versalles, who quickly became convinced that Oliva was "the new Ty Cobb", citing their similarities in hitting ability, speed, and arm strength.[6] However, Oliva failed to make the Twins major league team and was assigned to the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers, the club's Class AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. Disappointed, Oliva started the season slow, compiling a .235 average in his first two months.[6] He recovered, however, and finished the minor league season with a .304 batting average with 23 home runs and 74 RBI.[5] This earned him a call up for the final few games of the 1963 Major League season.

Major league career[edit]

Oliva in 1963.

Oliva was selected as the 1964 Rookie of the Year by a near-unanimous decision, receiving 19 of 20 first-place votes (one writer voted for Baltimore Oriole pitcher Wally Bunker). He led the American League in hitting with a .323 average, becoming the first player to win both the Rookie of the Year Award and American League batting title.[7] He led the AL in hits (217), doubles (43), extra base hits (84), total bases (374), runs (109), runs created (133), and batting average (.323).[1] Oliva finished fourth in MVP voting.

In 1965, Oliva won his second straight batting title with a .321 average. Only two other hitters reached the .300 mark that season: Carl Yastrzemski (.312) and Vic Davalillo (.301). Oliva added 16 home runs, 98 runs batted in, and 107 runs. He led the AL in hits (185), runs created (108), sacrifice flies (10), and batting average (.321). He finished second in MVP voting to teammate and friend Zoilo Versalles.

On June 9, 1966, in the seventh inning of a game against the Kansas City Athletics, Oliva was one of five Twins players to hit home runs. The others were Harmon Killebrew, Don Mincher, Rich Rollins and Zoilo Versalles. These five home runs still stand as a Major League record for the most home runs in a single inning, and were hit off starter Catfish Hunter (three) and reliever Paul Lindblad (two).[8] At the end of July, he was leading the league with a .328 average, but a 3-for-30 slump in the middle of September cost him a chance at his third straight batting title. He finished with .307, second to Frank Robinson (.316), while leading the AL in hits for the third year in a row (191). Additionally, he won a Gold Glove, and finished sixth in MVP voting.

In 1969, Oliva led the AL in hits (197), doubles (39), and third in batting average (.309). He led the AL in hits (204) for the fifth time in 1970. He also led the AL in doubles (36) for the fourth time, and finished second in MVP voting for the second time, this time to Baltimore's Boog Powell.

In 1971, Oliva won his third AL batting title with a .337 average and led the league in slugging percentage (.546).

The rest of the decade Oliva was hampered by knee, leg, and shoulder injuries. His roommate Rod Carew often heard Oliva "moaning and groaning" and getting up to obtain ice for his sore knees during the night.[9] He missed 34 games in 1968, rebounding the next two years with .309, 24 homers, 101 RBI, and .325, 23, 107, respectively. He missed all but ten games of the 1972 season, which required season-ending surgery. Due to injuries, he became the Twins' designated hitter, which had just been adopted by the American League.

Throughout his career, Oliva possessed a "rather pleasant disposition" and was known as a positive influence in a team's clubhouse.[9] Oliva was popular with the fans and the media of the Twin Cities during his career, and was given the nickname "Tony-O".

In a 1976 Esquire magazine article, sportswriter Harry Stein published an "All Time All-Star Argument Starter", consisting of five ethnic baseball teams. Oliva, a Cuban, was the right fielder on Stein's Latin team.

Post-playing life[edit]

Oliva started dating Gordette (DuBois) in the mid-60s. They were married in Hitchcock, South Dakota in 1968 and settled in Bloomington, Minnesota. He currently lives in a house he bought in 1972 and his four children with the exception of one live within 10 miles of their parents.[2][10] As of April 2011, Oliva also had four grandchildren.

Legacy[edit]

TwinsRetired6.png
Tony Oliva's number 6 was retired by the Minnesota Twins in 1991.

During a 15-year career, Oliva batted .304 with 220 home runs, 947 RBIs, 870 runs, 1,917 hits, 329 doubles, 48 triples, and 86 stolen bases in 1,676 games played.[1] Oliva was elected to the All-Star game his first eight seasons, surpassing Joe DiMaggio's previous record of six. After retiring, he served as a batting coach for the Twins. His number 6 jersey was retired by the Twins on July 14, 1991.[10]

It is debated by many that Oliva deserves induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame because of his great offensive numbers in years that were heavily dominated throughout the league by great pitching. In 1981, Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included him in their book The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time. They explained what they called "the Smoky Joe Wood Syndrome", in which a player of truly exceptional talent but whose career was curtailed by injury, in spite of not having had career statistics that would quantitatively rank him with the all-time greats, should still be included on their list of the 100 greatest players. Bill James, utilizing the Keltner list, determined that Oliva was a "viable Hall of Fame candidate", but ultimately did not endorse him as a Hall of Famer.[11] Several contemporaries have endorsed his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, including Tony Pérez, who mentioned in his 2000 induction speech that he hoped that Oliva would soon be in the Hall of Fame.[12]

In the year 2000, Oliva was one of six members of the franchise voted and inducted into the initial class of the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame. Also inducted in 2000 were teammates Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew, along with Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and long time owner Calvin Griffith, who owned the Twins from 1961 to 1984.

On 8 April 2011, the Twins unveiled a statue of Oliva at Target Field coinciding with the team's 2011 home opener.[2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "Tony Oliva Statistics". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Reusse, Patrick (April 8, 2011). "Oliva a legend rooted in Minnesota". Star Tribune. Retrieved July 27, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Peters, Alexander (1967). "Tony Oliva". Heroes of the Major Leagues. Random House. pp. 130–132. 
  4. ^ a b "Tony Oliva FAQ". Tony Oliva Official Web Site. 
  5. ^ a b "Tony Oliva Statistics". The Baseball Cube. Retrieved 2007-01-14. 
  6. ^ a b c Peters (134–135)
  7. ^ Povich, Shirley (1966). "The Minnesota Twins". In Ed Fitzgerald. The American League. Grosset & Dunlap. p. 120. 
  8. ^ "Retrosheet – Box score: Minnesota Twins 9, Kansas City Athletics 4. Game Played on Thursday, June 9, 1966 (N) at Metropolitan Stadium". Retrosheet.org. 1966-06-09. Retrieved 2011-07-27. 
  9. ^ a b James, Bill (2003-04-06). "Right Field". The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. New York: Free Press. pp. p. 800. ISBN 0743227220. 
  10. ^ a b "Retired Numbers: Tony Oliva". MLB.com. Retrieved 2007-01-14. 
  11. ^ James, Bill (1995). Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?:Baseball, Cooperstown, and the Politics of Glory. Simon & Schuster. pp. 275–285, 351–352. ISBN 9780684800882. 
  12. ^ "Induction Speeches: Tony Perez". Baseball Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 2006-12-05. Retrieved 2007-01-14. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Jim Lemon
Minnesota Twins first base coach
1985
Succeeded by
Wayne Terwilliger
Preceded by
Minnesota Twins hitting coach
1986–1991
Succeeded by
Terry Crowley