March 18, 2024

Tony Oliva, 1966

The final (for now) addition to my Twins baseball card collection is this 1967 card that shows the American League batting leaders for 1966: Frank Robinson, Tony Oliva and Al Kaline.

Oliva would hit .307 that season and lead the AL with 191 hits. He got off to a red-hot start and by early May was absolutely on fire.

Over a 10-day period — May 3 to May 13 — Oliva went off, collecting 17 hits in 32 at bats with 11 RBI, seven runs scored, three home runs, three doubles and one triple. By May 13, he was slashing an incredible .413/.463/.787.

And on May 13, he had the biggest game of that stretch in a 9-5 beat down of the lowly Washington Senators.

Oliva had four hits in five at bats, including a double and triple and four RBI to pace the Twins. The club banged out 13 hits to make a winner out of Jim Kaat, who would go on to win 25 games in ‘66. Kaat went the distance, allowing five runs (three earned) on eight hits with a walk and five whiffs.

Oliva’s May 13 performance was not lost on the Minneapolis Tribune, who compared him to the superhero Batman under a headline that reads, “Robin? Who needs him?”

The lede: “The ‘Minnesota Batman’ Tony Oliva struck again Friday night.”

More from the same story: “A bystander pointed out that he is leading the American League with a .413 average and might become the first man to hit .400 since Ted Williams posted a .406 mark in 1941.”

Oliva responded:

“Listen, I’ll be happy to hit .300,” Oliva told the newspaper. “Do you know what it takes to hit .400? You can’t have any slumps. And if you get one hit one day, you must come back with two or three the next. That’s just too tough — no, .300 is good enough.”

Twins manager Sam Mele knew he was watching something special.

“I’ve seen some great hitters,” Mele told the paper. “And Tony’s one of them. I won’t say he’s the best I’ve ever seen, but he’s the best all-around ball player I’ve seen. He rarely goes into a slump. Sure, he may not get a hit one day, but the next day he’s likely to get five. That’s what makes a great hitter.”

Extra innings…

-The 2024 Twins returned to their losing ways on Sunday, getting blown out 9-4 by the Toronto Blue Jays.

-The good news: Infielder Brooks Lee, the Twins’ first-round draft pick in 2022, tripled and homered in the game, scored two runs and drove in two more.

-The bad news: Twins pitching. Reliever Jorge Alcala made a scoreless appearance and struck out three, but four other pitchers served up nine runs.

Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com, Newspapers.com

COMMENTS

Hi, I’m Rolf Boone, Twins fan.

I became a fan of the Minnesota Twins after a friendly wager in the early 1980s. I survived Ron Davis, the meltdown in Cleveland, Phil Bradley at the Kingdome and then marveled at a rising generation of stars and two World Series wins in 1987 and 1991. Brad Radke made the 1990s bearable, while Kirby Puckett’s eye injury, exit from the game and eventual death made it almost too much to bear. The new century ushered in more talent — Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau — and consecutive seasons of playoff baseball, followed by consecutive seasons of losing baseball. A winning season returned in 2015. So here we are. Go Twins.