Tony Oliva, who spent his entire 15-season career with the Twins, had one of the best rookie campaigns of all time, and was the clear choice for AL Rookie of the Year in 1964, capturing 95 percent of the vote, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
The numbers are incredible: 217 hits, 109 runs, 94 RBI, 43 doubles, 32 home runs and nine triples, all of which helped produce a slash line of .323/.359/.557. He also struck out only 68 times in 672 at bats. His 217 hits and 374 total bases led the majors that season.
— Tom Thompson (@seyheytt) July 20, 2019
But when you hit that well — Oliva burst out of the gates that season going 12-for-29 — pitchers take note and offense, according to “Tony Oliva: The life and times of a Minnesota Twins legend,” a 2015 book by Thom Henninger. It wasn’t long before Oliva was picking himself up off the ground because the word was out that the Cuban right fielder could hit anything.
In a season-opening road trip, according to the book, the brush back pitches started in Washington — pitcher Carl Bouldin both brushed him back and hit him — and continued in Detroit where Mickey Lolich also sent a message.
According to the book:
It was not unusual for a veteran pitcher to throw in tight to a rookie who was hitting well. Rookies were not supposed to feel too comfortable at the plate. Oliva, who loved to step into the ball, had made himself right at home against major league hurlers. Plus, more than a few pitchers were annoyed at Oliva’s lengthy digging-in process.
“I’ve been thrown at before,” he told beat writers. “Maybe they do it because they think it might scare me. Well, nobody likes to get hit, but I’m not scared, either.”
It all came to a head on May 22 when Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Barber hit Oliva with a pitch to the forehead of his helmet, cracking a hole in it, according to the book. Oliva spent two days in hospital, but less than 48 hours later he was back at the plate where he homered off Orioles pitcher, Milt Pappas, his ninth blast of the season.
Twins manager, Sam Mele, tallied the numbers and said Oliva had so far been brushed back seven times, leading the manager to call a meeting of Twins pitchers and a call for them to defend Oliva. That meeting appears to have happened in late May, but a check of box scores for late May and early June doesn’t reveal any bean ball wars, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
Oliva also finished fourth in the AL MVP vote of 1964, behind winner Brooks Robinson, Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard, also of the New York Yankees. The AL Rookie of the Year runner-up was Orioles pitcher, Wally Bunker, who went 19-5 with a 2.69 ERA in ’64.
-Speaking of second-place finishes, Twins pitcher Kenta Maeda didn’t win the AL Cy Young award, but he still made a pretty good showing by finishing second to winner Shane Bieber of the Cleveland Indians. Maeda’s numbers were impressive. He went 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA and struck out 80 in 66-plus innings. His WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) was 0.75, the lowest in the majors for 2020.