Former Twins right fielder and designated hitter, Tony Oliva, was a good player and, at times, great when one considers his rookie season and three batting titles. But a devastating knee injury hampered his career, meaning he didn’t get the playing time to consistently produce the numbers needed for enshrinement. Oliva retired with a career batting average of better than .300, but fell short in every other meaningful category, such as home runs and hits.
And yet Oliva’s contemporaries continue to insist that he belongs in the Hall of Fame, according to “Tony Oliva: The life and times of a Minnesota Twins legend,” a 2015 book by Thom Henninger.
Henninger either quotes or cites a number of former pitchers who rate Oliva as one of the best hitters of his generation.
Hall of Fame pitcher, Catfish Hunter:
“He did not have a weakness.”
Former 31-game winner Denny McClain:
“Tony Oliva was the best hitter I ever saw, bar none. I don’t care who they talk about today, but imagine Oliva hitting against the pitching quality now. He would hit .450 in this day.”
Former Cy Young award winner, Dean Chance:
“No one could hit like him. Carl Yastrzemski was a close second, but Tony was the toughest. There’s no way he shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame.”
Former 20-game winner Jim Bouton:
“For the period I played against him in the 1960s, he was, I would say, one of the top five hitters in baseball.”
“Sudden” Sam McDowell, who led the American League in strikeouts five times:
“I didn’t know, and I still don’t know, of any weakness that he had. He was a fantastic hitter, and quite frankly, I think he should be in the Hall of Fame.”
-This is my final post about Henninger’s book. It was an enjoyable read, but not exactly a page-turner. And yet that’s not the author’s fault, but reflects the subject material. Oliva, though a good hitter, was not a star. He also was not a controversial figure, which may have given the book some added heft. Instead, he was a stand up guy who made his way from Cuba to Minnesota and found a life and career. In a bigger market, Oliva would’ve been a household name, but in small-market Minnesota, certainly in the 1960s, he was best known to those within the state and those he played against. Beloved in Minnesota, but not beyond it.
-I am looking forward to Henninger’s next book, however. After checking Amazon, I see that his book on the Twins and the 1960s, “The Pride of Minnesota,” is set to be released next spring. It’s already on my wish list.