The next time you hear somebody
whining that a player like Don Mattingly or Keith Hernandez should be in the Hall of Fame, point out Al Oliver’s career
to them. A seven-time All Star and .303 career hitter with over 2,700 hits, Oliver’s
window for enshrinement has long since closed.
Born Albert Oliver Jr. on October 14, 1946
in Portsmouth, OH, he was drafted out of high school by
the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1964. After a brief call-up in 1968, he joined the
major league roster for good the following season. Playing mostly first base,
the rookie hit .285 with 17 homers and 70 RBI in 129 games. He finished second
in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting.
While Oliver was an immediate
success with the bat, his glove was a different story. On May 23, 1969, he tied a dubious major league record by committing three errors in one inning. In 1970, the Pirates moved him into the outfield, where he would stay until the later
stages of his career.
Oliver’s .312 average
and 89 RBI helped Pittsburgh capture the NL East title in 1970, but the team was
upended by Cincinnati in the NLCS. While
Oliver’s production took a slight dip in 1971 (.282, 64 RBI), it didn’t stop the Pirates from winning the NL pennant
and defeating the favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
The 6-0, 195 lb. line-drive
hitting outfielder remained in Pittsburgh for the next six seasons and performed
consistently well, hitting over .300 four times. In December of 1977 however,
Oliver was dealt to the lowly Texas Rangers in a four team deal.
While the Rangers were never
contenders, Oliver, who wore #0, maintained a high level of play, hitting .324, .323, .319, and .309 during his four years
in Texas. In 1980, he established
a career high in RBI, with 117, and hits, 209. He left Texas
as the franchise’s all time leading hitter, with a .319 mark.
Just before the start of the
1982 season, the Ohio native found himself on the move again, when he was dealt
to the Montreal Expos for Larry Parrish and Dave Hostetler. The trade was a godsend
for Oliver; he led the NL with a .331 average, 109 RBI, 204 hits, 43 doubles, 317 total bases, set a career high with 22 homeruns,
and finished third in the NL MVP voting. With that season, he became the first
player to compile 200 hits and drive in 100 runs in a season in both the American and National Leagues.
In 1983, the loquacious veteran
hit .300 and again led the league in doubles with 38, but was once again on the move.
In February of 1984, he was shipped to San Francisco in a four player trade.
The 36-year-old was hitting .298 for the Giants when he was dealt to Philadelphia
in August. Despite the turmoil, Oliver managed to finish the season with a .301
average. It was his ninth straight, and final, .300+ season.
1985 was more of the same for
the veteran. In February he was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Pat Zachary, and in July, he was dealt again, this time
to the Toronto Blue Jays for Len Matuszek. The Jays were his fifth team in three
Oliver finished the 1985 season
with a career low .252 average. He was however, able to enjoy one last moment in the sun by helping the Blue Jays win their
first AL East crown. In the ALCS, Oliver collected two game winning hits and
the Jays raced out to a 3-1 series lead before falling in seven games to the eventual world champion Kansas City Royals.
After 18 big league seasons,
Oliver called it quits. His career totals include a .303 average, 2,743
hits, 1,326 RBI, 219 homeruns, and 529 doubles. In 1991, his first year of eligibility,
Oliver received just 19 Hall of Fame votes, while 23 were required to stay on the ballot.
Today Oliver, who was known
for his upbeat attitude during his playing days, works as a motivational speaker.