Should Cooperstown Welcome Al Oliver?
Before starting this article, I would like to say, I am sure we all know some fans that become very passionate when one of their favorite players is not in the Hall of fame. Sometimes the so-called “bubble” players eventually make it. A case in point would be the Cub’s Ron Santo; unfortunately he gained entrance posthumously. Since the criteria for a player to enter the “Hall” is not defined, or existent…it can an invitation for much debate. In fact I have a good acquaintance, which is a Braves fan, which is willing to argue with anyone concerning Dale Murphy’s induction.
All things considered, arguments can also be made for Bill Madlock, Dave Parker, and Keith Hernandez. This group’s denial might be traced, to bad behavior, either attitude or drugs. Let us not forget those from the steroid era, such as the Barry Bonds, Roger Clemons, Mark McGuire, or Sammy Sosa. While it could be argued that they were HOF material before they ever became involved with performance enhancement. It can also be debated that at the time PEDs were not illegal. Eventually each or some of these players might be honored, but it will likely take a strong case of amnesia or strong rebuilding of the individual’s reputation.
Being a “die-hard” Pirates fan, what about Al Oliver’s enshrinement into the Hall of Fame? Comparing his career with those already in the HOF supports my argument that he should be sitting on the stage at the annual Hall of Fame induction.
Al Oliver’s first year of Hall of Fame eligibility was in 1990. He was among 48 eligible Hall of Fame candidates. Now, remember that to make the ballot, the requirements are simple; a player must be retired for five years and then accepted by the BBWAA’s screening committee. This is a committee that consists of six writers with 25 or more years of experience.
Back in 1990, The Sporting News proclaimed the favorites among the eligible candidates as Rod Carew, Rollie Fingers and Rusty Staub. Rod Carew played 19 years in the Majors with a .328 lifetime average and won seven batting titles. Not many would argue with his induction. Rollie Fingers pitched for 17 years and accumulated 341 saves. Are their doubts? Then there is the case of Rusty Staub, he stuck around for 23 years, had a .273 lifetime average and batted over .300 five times. “Le Grand Orange” was very likable player but I am sure the length of his career had to do with his consideration.
When the votes were counted, Carew was the only one to get in. Rollie Fingers came close but had to wait until the following year. Staub only captured 6.3 per cent . So, Carew, Gaylord Perry, and Fergie Jenkins entered the Hall of Fame in 1991. Perry and Jenkins were holdovers from the previous year. Having seen each of them play, I feel that all were deserving of the honor.
But then there is Al Oliver who played on those great Pirates teams of the seventies. He has three teammates that are in the Hall of Fame, Clemente, Stargell, and Mazeroski. Although he was runner up for the Rookie of Year in 1969, he never seemed to have a steady position. First there was the roadblock at first base with Bob Robertson. At the time, Robertson was thought of as the next Ralph Kiner. This meant Oliver played the outfield, not exactly his strong suit. When Robertson did not cut it, Oliver was again denied the opportunity to play first because Willie Stargell played there because of an injury. Eventually Al became the starter at first base, but all of the switching between playing outfield and first base might have stunted his development as a major league player.
Al Oliver received 4.3 per cent of the vote in 1990 and was removed from going further as an eligible candidate. This is somebody who played 18 years with a .303 career batting average, with 2,743 total hits, 219 homeruns and 1326 runs batted in. He made seven All-Star teams, was given consideration for the Most Valuable Player award for ten different seasons. Oliver was tied with Coco Laboy as the runner up to Ted Sizemore who won the Rookie of the Year. He won the Silver Slugger award each year between: 1980-82
Mr. Oliver was fortunate or had the misfortune to play for some very good teams in Pittsburgh at the start of his career. The Pirates played in the National League Championship series four of five seasons that Oliver was on the team in the seventies. They won a World Series in 1971! Because of all of the stars in Pittsburgh, his star did not seem as bright.
He moved on and played four years at Texas. He was one of the front line players but they never made it to the ALCS. After that stint he traveled north to play two years in Montreal. Those years might have been his best statistically. He won the batting title in 1982. His years in Montreal resulted in two third place finishes.
“Al, as a lifetime .300 hitter after 18 seasons, I feel is deserving of induction into the 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 history.”
So to visually show my argument why Al Oliver should have his plaque in Cooperstown,, I have included the chart below as where Oliver fits in upon some similar batters.
Statistical comparison with Hall of Famers:
The numbers in parentheses represent the average season for the player’s career. As you will notice, Al falls in the middle of most categories. Al Oliver is a dynamic motivational speaker and after finishing his career, has formed an organization to help others. He lost both his parents at an early age, leaving him as the parenting figure for his pregnant sister and younger brother. If it were not for his faith and trust in God, he could have easily succumbed to the demons that other star athletes have faced. But he did not.
This is why I believe the Veterans Committee should welcome him with open arms through the doors in Cooperstown!