April 18, 2014

Should Cooperstown Welcome Al Oliver?

November 21, 2012 by · 3 Comments 

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.”

-Andre Dawson

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:

Name Seasons H R 2B 3B HR RBI AVG Yrs Played
Al Oliver 18 2743 1189 529 77 219 1326 .303 1968-1985

(188) (81) (36) (5) (15) (91)
Richie Ashburn
15 2574 1322 317 109 29 586 .308 1948-1962

(190) (98) (23) (8) (2) (43)
Andre Dawson
21 2774 1373 503 98 438 1591 .279 1976-1996

(171) (85) (31) (6) (27) (98)
Ducky Medwick
17 2471 1198 540 113 205 1383 .324 1932-1948

(202) (98) (44) (9) (17) (113)
Enos Slaughter
19 2383 1247 413 148 169 1304 .300 1938-1959

(162) (85) (28) (10) (12) (89)
Zack Wheat
19 2884 1289 476 172 132 1248 .317 1909-1927

(194) (87) (32) (12) (9) (84)

 

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!

Comments

3 Responses to “Should Cooperstown Welcome Al Oliver?”
  1. David says:

    What I really appreciate about your article is that you’re arguing for a marginal Hall of Fame player. Frankly, you read so many articles these days devoted to the solid-Hall-of-Famer-but-not-yet-inducted players that it gets a little boring (Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Dwight or Darrell Evans, etc.). It’s fun to have someone come out and say that Al Oliver should get in instead of the same ol’ song and dance. I really appreciate that.

    Also, according to Baseball Reference, his Gray Ink, Hall of Fame Monitor, and Hall of Fame Standards are a little low, but definitely consistent with Hall of Fame players.

    I’m not sure I agree with the conclusion, but I appreciate the advocacy for an unusual player, and I appreciate the sentiment. Frankly, if I were inclined to induct a Pirate from the 1970s, I’d probably go with Dave Parker rather than Al Oliver.

  2. He should have been in years ago.

  3. David says:

    To the point of what I was saying vis-a-vis Parker, what are the best arguments for Oliver to go into the Hall? In the eighth paragraph of the article, there are nine claims about Oliver’s worthiness. Let’s see how they stack up when considered against Dave Parker:

    Check that against Dave Parker:

    1. played 18 years? Check. Parker played 19.

    2. .303 career batting average? Not quite: Parker checks in at .290. However, whereas Oliver won one batting title (at .331, his only season at or above .325), Parker won two, at .338 and .334, respectively. So let’s say “batting average” is closer as a category than previously described. Plus, Oliver has only a 5-point advantage in OBP (.344-.339) and has a 20-point disadvantage in slugging (.471-.451). I’d say that more than makes up for 13 points of average.

    3. 2,743 total hits? Check. Well, not quite: Oliver had 31 more hits than Parker, but I don’t think that’s enough to quibble over.

    4. 219 homeruns? Um… mega-check. Parker hit 50% more home runs than Oliver, ending up with 339.

    5. 1326 runs batted in? 1493. Check.

    6. seven All-Star teams? Same for Parker: 1977, 1979-81, 1985-86, 1990.

    7. consideration for the Most Valuable Player award for ten different seasons? Here’s an interesting one. No. Parker only received MVP support in 8 seasons. HOWEVER, Parker won the award once, finished second once, third twice, and fifth once. Oliver finished third once and 7th twice. So Oliver had two top-7s, while Parker had five. Oliver finished in the top 3 once, to Parker’s four times. And Parker had two top-2s, including a win. Oliver finished tied for third one time, when he may not have even been the 3rd best player on his own team: Dawson, Raines, and Carter were probably as good as Oliver, if not better in 1982.

    8. tied as runner up for Rookie of the Year? No. Parker received no support for RoY. Of course, if this is the only advantage Al Oliver has, sign Ben Grieve and Jose Valentin up for Cooperstown immediately!

    9. three Silver Slugger awards? Check. Interestingly, both guys won Silver Sluggers in both leagues, and both guys won at multiple positions (Oliver at OF, 1B, and DH; Parker at OF and DH).

    I’m not really trying to denigrate Al Oliver’s playing career. I’m just suggesting that it’s an odd choice. I think Parker is a better candidate. After all, Parker’s career numbers are better, and his best seasons are better. Al Oliver was not the best player on the Pirates of the 70s (I would put him at #4, behind Stargell, Blyleven, and Parker), and he was definitely not the best Expo of the 80s. He may have been the best Ranger in his time there, but I don’t really think that’s how anyone remembers him; nor should being the best player on your team be a requirement for the Hall of Fame. It just strikes me that there are a LOT of players of the quality of Oliver, many of whom won’t ever get in. That doesn’t mean it would be WRONG to elect him, per se; it’s just that I don’t see a compelling reason to do so, especially with so many other candidates who are more qualified and eligible.

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