Monday, March 22, 2010

#260 Al Oliver

Who is this player?
Al Oliver, leftfielder, Texas Rangers
Having already established himself as one of the best hitters in the game, Al Oliver had arguably his finest season to date in 1980. Wearing the number 0 on his uniform, Oliver played in all of Texas' 163 games, and reached career highs in hits (209), doubles (43) and RBI (117) while batting .319. He was voted to the AL All-Star team for the first time and was an outfielder on The Sporting News 1980 AL Silver Slugger Team. On August 17 at Tiger Stadium, he established an American League record with 21 total bases in a doubleheader (four home runs, a double and a triple).

Born the son of a Harlem Globetrotter, Al Oliver was born in Portsmouth, Ohio and attended high school with fellow future major leaguer, Larry Hisle. After his graduation in 1964, he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates and made his major league debut in 1968. It was a bittersweet day for Al as his father died the same day. The lefthand-hitting Oliver became the Pirates regular first baseman the following season and was runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting. He earned the nickname "Scoop" for his defensive abilities. By 1971, he was installed as the team's regular centerfielder and Oliver helped lead the team to a World Championship.

In 10 seasons in Pittsburgh, Al was a .296 batter, four times batting over .300. He was second in the National League in batting in 1974 and appeared in the postseason five times. He was consistently among the league leaders in hits, at bats and total bases during his Steel City tenure. Following the 1977 season, he was one of the key players in a blockbuster four-team deal that saw him traded to Texas for Bert Blyleven, among others. It was in Texas that Oliver would become the franchise leader in batting average, never batting lower that .309 in four seasons.

Traded to Montreal in 1982, he had a banner season, leading the league in hits (204), doubles (43), batting average (.331) and RBI (109). As the Expos first baseman, he became the first big leaguer to have a 200-hit, 100-RBI season in both leagues and finished third in MVP voting. The following year, his average slipped to .300 (his lowest since 1975), but he still led the NL with 38 doubles. He spent the final years of his 18-year career bouncing between the Phillies, Giants, Dodgers and Blue Jays.

Oliver appeared in the ALCS as a member of the 1985 AL East champion Blue Jays and delivered game-winning hits both Game 2 and Game 4. Unfortunately, Tortonto lost the series in seven games. He did not receive a contract offer in 1986 and he retired with 2,743 career hits. Only 33 men in the history of the game had more. Today, Al runs his own website and maintains a foundation. It's mission statement is:
The purpose of this corporation is to enhance the lives of youth, seniors, veterans and individuals with physical and/or mental handicaps through provision of services and activities that promote health and wellness ultimately leading to increased self-esteem.

Why I love this card
I have always been an Al Oliver fan. Below is his 1980 Super Card, complete with "Scoop" necklace. Other than maybe Steve Garvey, I cannot think of another player from this set whose accomplishments have been more passed over. Also, look at the size of that mitt! Had I had one like that in Little League I never would have dropped the ball. Then again, it would have been bigger than my head, but nonetheless.....

Something else....
When Oliver played in 163 games in 1980, I couldn't understand how this was possible. Of course, it is easily explainable today, as Oliver played in a rain-shortend 1-1 tie in Chicago on July 26, 1980. A player appearing in more than 162 games in a season has happened only eight times in history, most recently by Justin Morneau in 2008.

On this date in 1980
In St. Paul, Minnesota, Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Adrian Adonis fought Verne Gagne and Mad Dog Vachon for the AWA Tag Team Championship.


  1. It's too bad he couldn't stick around long enough to get to 3000 hits. He was a heckuva hitter.

  2. From what I've read, Oliver believes collusion of the mid-1980s did him in. Had that not been going on, he is confident that he would have reached 3000.

    Me, I'm not so sure. He was 38 when his career ended and more than 250 hits away. Now, that's not to say he couldn't have been like Yaz or Pete Rose and played full time as a DH for the next 3 years, it's just hard to imagine.

  3. For some reason a lot of Topps cards from the late 1970s would contain a comment not about the year before but the year before that like the 1980 Oliver.

  4. There is another way to play 163. Joel Youngblood was traded on 4 August 1982 from the Mets to the Expos. He started for the Mets that day and was removed from the lineup early in the game upon being traded. He managed to make it to the Expos in time to pinch hit late in their game on the same day. Of course Joel wasn't a 162 game a year player but that circumstance could arise some day.