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Al Oliver

Al Oliver

Position(s):
OF, RF, 1B, LF, CF, DH
Nicknames:
Scoop
Born:
October 14, 1946
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Left
Height:
6'
Weight:
195 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-23-1968 with PIT
Allstar Selections:
1980 SS, 1981 SS, 1982 SS

 He was sometimes outspoken and disgruntled when he was in Pittsburgh, but more than that he was a hitting talent, one of the best ever to grace the Steel City.  Despite the fact Al Oliver was often at odds with the media and the press, he certainly more than proved he was one of the best ever to play the game, a player that may have the qualifications to make the Hall of Fame, yet still is on the outside looking in.


There are 23 men who have over 2500 hits in their career that aren’t in the hall of fame.  Out of that list, only 14 are eligible at this point to be elected.  Taking the 14 remaining players into account, only Vada Pinson has more than Oliver’s total of 2,743 hits.


In Bill James book, “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame”, he makes the statistical point that Al Oliver is the only player to have more than 2,500 hits, 200 Homers and a .300 career batting average not to be included in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.


James, who wrote the book in 1994, when making projections on who would be voted in each season over the next 25 years, thought Oliver would have gone in by 1998 with Gary Carter (neither of whom have ever made it).  Although Oliver has the support of such notables as ESPN announcer Jon Miller and the late Willie Stargell who was very disappointed he got little support, as he has only received, as of 2002, 19 votes in 1991, and is only eligible for election by baseball veteran’s committee.


While it’s perplexing he has received little support in his quest, Oliver never the less certainly had a fine career.  He began his professional baseball life with a knee injury in 1964 that put him on the shelf for a time.  He eventually made it back and became one of the team’s best prospects, eventually hitting .315 when he made it to the Pirates AAA team in Columbus in 1968.


Whereas he was a solid hitting prospect, defense originally was not exactly his forte, as he made 64 and 75 errors over two minor league campaigns at first base, prompting someone to sarcastically dub him with the nickname, “scoops”.


After a 1 for 8 trial in 1968 with the parent club, Oliver made it for good in 1969 hitting 17 homers with a .285 average.  Pirate announcer Bob Prince once said that Oliver hit a hard .280; in reference to the fact that Al hit many hard line drives whether for hits or outs.  His defensive troubles still plagued Al as he set a major league record on May 23rd with three errors in one inning at first.  Even though he had his problems in that game, Oliver did improve with the glove as he had a .991 fielding percentage.  For his efforts in ’69, he finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting.


The following season, Al slipped a little in his batting average, although his RBI production increased to 83. Oliver played in 151 games his sophomore season, yet was visibly irritated because he did not have a position to call his own. Scoops played 28 games in left, 54 in right and 77 at first as he now had to share time with Bobby Robertson.


The Ohio native was mad because he lost his first base position to Big Red and felt like he was nothing more than a utility player, something he just couldn’t accept.  He though he talent was such that he should have a position to call his own.  During an interview that season, he told famous Pittsburgh sportswriter, Chuck Feeney, that if he didn’t get his way, he may sit out the whole next season. 


While Al didn’t get first base back in 1971, he did seem to find a home in center field.  Although he played the majority of the games in center, he still had to share time with Gene Clines, again angering him.


Oliver felt that he could be a superstar, but wasn’t given the chance to be with Pirate manager Danny Murtaugh’s platoon system.  He felt once the Bucs traded Matty Alou the previous campaign that the job should have been his and his alone.  Sportswriter Bill Christine felt Al’s problem was he read the papers too often and thought he was a superstar only because he read it so many times.


With all the controversy that went on, Scoops had a fine 1071 season hitting .282 and smacking what was probably the most important home run of his career in game 4 of the NLCS.  With the game tied at 5 in the 6th inning, Roberto Clemente singled in Dave Cash for a 6-5 lead.  Then the Giants walked Willie Stargell to get to Oliver.  Scoops was so mad that the team pitched around Willie to get to him that he parked a pitched into the right field stands to make the score 9-5 and send the club to the world series.


Even with the happy moment, Oliver was still unhappy he couldn’t play everyday and came out during the series claiming the team either play him or trade him.  He went on further to say that the front office expected the players to be first class on the field, but that they were not acting first class.

 

As Al’s play increased in 1972, so did his exposure as the budding superstar hit .312 and was selected to play in his first of seven all-star games.  He followed up his first .300 campaign by setting then career high’s in homers and RBI’s in 1973 with 20 and 99 respectively.

Scoops kept improving as the years went by and hit .321 in 1974, well enough for 2nd in the senior circuit, before dropping down to .280 the following season.


The man from Portsmouth was intent on getting back to .300 and did so with a vengeance in 1976, breaking out to a .360 start in 1976, where he was leading the NL in batting by the all-star break, Scoops developed an inner ear infection that hampered him through the second half.  Though he struggled, he still finished at .323, which would be Al’s first of nine consecutive years over the .300 barrier.


Oliver had a solid ’77 campaign, but unfortunately it was his last in the black and gold.  Following the season, trade rumors swirled as the hot one had him going to the Padres in exchange for Dave Winfield.  Pirate GM Pete Peterson put in a call to the 31 year old outfielder in December to tell him that he had been dealt to Texas with Nelson Norman for two integral parts of the 1979 Pittsburgh championship team, Bert Blyleven and John Milner.  Pete expressed to Al that it was hard to do (trading him) and that he felt bad.  Oliver ended up hanging up on Peterson feeling that what Pete was saying wasn’t exactly the truth. 

In 1978 Oliver was second in the AL with a .324 batting average and his 170 hits here good for eighth in the league and his 35 doubles were sixth in the league. The next season, 1979, Oliver hit .323, good for fifth in the league (the fifth time he had finished among his league's top ten in batting.

Wearing the number 0 on his uniform, Oliver played in all of Texas's 163 games in 1980, and reached career highs in hits (209, fourth in the AL), doubles (43, second in the AL) and RBI (117, fourth in the AL) while batting .319, which was eighth in the American League. He was voted to the AL All-Star team for the first time. Oliver was the outfielder on The Sporting News 1980 AL Silver Slugger Team. On August 17 at Tiger Stadium, he established an American League record with 21 total bases in a doubleheader (four home runs, a double and a triple).

In 1981 Oliver was ninth in the AL with a .309 average, sixth in hits with 130, second in doubles with 29 while playing in the All-Star game (his 5th). He also won his second consecutive Silver Slugger Award as the best hitter at his position, which in 1981 was designated hitter.

On March 31, 1982, after he became the Rangers' all-time leading hitter (.319) and reached the club's top ten in virtually every offensive category he was traded to the Montreal Expos for Larry Parrish and Dave Hostetler.

In 1982 with the Expos, Oliver hit a career-high .331 batting average to win the National League batting crown. He also led the NL in hits (204), doubles (43), extra bases (67), and total bases (317), and tied with Dale Murphy for the RBI lead with 109. His doubles tied his 1980 career-high and his 67 extra base hit was also a career-high as well has his 22 home runs, breaking his 1973 personal best. In addition to playing in his sixth All-Star game he was 3rd in the NL MVP voting and won his 3rd consecutive Silver Slugger Award, this time as a first baseman. He was also the first baseman on The Sporting News NL All-Star Team.

In 1983 Oliver led the NL in doubles with 38 and was fourth in the NL in hits with 184. He hit .300 once again and topped the 2500 career hit level (August 10, 1983, off Mets' pitcher Carlos Diaz). and Oliver was selected for his seventh All-Star game, starting at first base in the 1983 Classic.

Giants, Phillies, Dodgers, Blue Jays (1984-85)

On February 27, 1984, Oliver was traded San Francisco Giants for Fred Breining and Max Venable. The San Francisco Giants later sent Andy McGaffigan to the Montreal Expos to complete the trade. Later that same year, on August 20, 1984, he was again traded, this time with Renie Martin to the Philadelphia Phillies for Kelly Downs and George Riley.

In the offseason, Oliver was traded by the Phillies to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Pat Zachry. Then, on July 9, 1985, he was traded by the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Toronto Blue Jays for Len Matuszek. With the Blue Jays, Oliver delivered two game-winning hits in the first four games of the 1985 American League Championship Series against Kansas City. However, the Royals rallied to win the last three games. (In the seventh and deciding game, the lefty Oliver started as the DH against right-hander Bret Saberhagen. But after pitching three scoreless innings, Saberhagen departed the game in favour of lefty Charlie Leibrandt, thus giving the Royals the platoon advantage. Right-handed batter Cliff Johnson pinch hit for Oliver, and struck out, ending a Blue Jays rally. Oliver was caught by TV cameras angrily scowling in the dugout, knowing his night—and as it turned out, his season and career—were over.) Oliver batted .375 for the series.

Oliver claims that due to baseball collusion he was forced to retire. Courts did prove that there was collusion among baseball owners in the mid-1980s to suppress baseball salaries, but it has not been shown that it had a direct effect on Oliver. Several players, including Kirk Gibson, were allowed to file for free agency a second time because of the court order based on the "collusion" finding. Andre Dawson said, "Al, as a lifetime .300 hitter after 18 seasons, I feel is deserving of induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. There is no question in my mind had he not been forced out of the game by collusion, had he been given an all out honest attempt to achieve 3,000 hits, he would have done it. He was pushed out of the game when he was still a .300 hitter. I feel he deserves a place in baseball today."

 

Perhaps it was the battles he had with the front office or the media that has helped keep Al out of Cooperstown.  Whatever it was, there is no disputing that Oliver goes down as one of the best natural hitters the franchise has ever produced.

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Tagged:
1971 World Series, Al Oliver, All Star, Los Angeles Dodgers, Montreal Expos, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Rookie of the Year Award, San Francisco Giants, Silver Slugger Award, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays

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