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Tony Oliva

A photo of Tony Oliva.

Tony Pedro Oliva (born Antonio Oliva Lopez Hernandes Javique on July 20, 1938 in Pinar del Río, Cuba) is a former Major League Baseball right fielder who played his entire career in the American League for the Minnesota Twins from 1962 to 1976. He batted left-handed and threw right-handed.[1] His career was hampered by knee injuries, forcing him to become a designated hitter during his final four years of professional baseball.

Journey to America[]

Oliva was born in the Cuban province on Pinar Del Rio. He played baseball weekly with his father, brothers, and neighbors in a vacant lot near the Olivas' farm. Oliva's father, a former semi-professional player, instructed him, helping him become the best hitter in Pinar Del Rio.[2] A scout for the Minnesota Twins noticed him and brought him to the United States to play professionally. He was reluctant to leave his mother, father, and nine siblings, but his father encouraged him to become "rich and famous" in America.[2]

Oliva appeared in the Twins' final three spring training games, collecting seven hits in ten at bats. The Twins, however, had already filled their minor league rosters and released Oliva.[2] Having nowhere else to go, Oliva traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina to train with a friend who played for a Minnesota Twins Class A farm team. His quick wrists, long frame, and "unharnessed power" impressed Charlotte manager Paul Howser. Howser placed a call and convinced the Twins to re-sign Oliva. Many newspapers reported that the 21 year old Tony Oliva was actually his 18 year old brother Pedro Oliva.[3] However, the name Tony stuck and Oliva continued using the name, even going as far to officially change his name to Tony Pedro Oliva in the late 1990s.[3]

Minor league career[]

The Twins assigned Oliva to their Appalachian League team in Wytheville, Virginia, where he played in 64 games leading the league with a .410 batting average, though with a low fielding percentage of .854.[4] After finishing second to Orlando Cepeda in batting average in the Puerto Rico leagues in winter ball, Oliva was sent to Charlotte, where he played 127 games. He was called up to the major leagues with nine games left and debuted for the Twins September 9, 1962.[1] The following season he was invited to spring training with the Twins. The Twins' management hoped that Oliva would counterbalance their right-handed batters Bob Allison and Harmon Killebrew.[5] He became friends with his Cuban shortstop teammate Zoilo Versalles, who quickly became convinced that Oliva was "the new Ty Cobb," citing their similarities in hitting ability, speed, and arm strength.[5] However, Oliva failed to make the Twins major league team and was assigned to the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers, their Class AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. Disappointed, Oliva started the season slow, compiling a .235 average in his first two months.[5] He recovered, however, and finished the minor league season with a .304 batting average.[4] This earned him a call up for the final few games of the 1963 Major League season.

Major league career[]

Oliva was selected as the 1964 Rookie of the Year by a near-unanimous decision, receiving 19 of 20 first-place votes (one writer voted for Baltimore Oriole pitcher Wally Bunker).' who was 19-5 that year. He led the American League in hitting with a .323 average, becoming the first player to win both the Rookie of the Year Award and American League batting title.[6] He led the AL in hits (217), doubles (43), extra base hits (84), total bases (374), runs (109), runs created (133), and batting average (.323). [1] Oliva finished fourth in MVP voting.

In 1965, Oliva won his second straight batting title with a .321 average. Only two other hitters reached the .300 mark: Carl Yastrzemski (.312) and Vic Davalillo (.301). Oliva added 16 home runs, 98 runs batted in, 107 runs. He led the AL in hits (185), runs created (108), sacrifice flies (10), and batting average (.321). He finished second in MVP voting to teammate and friend Zoilo Versalles.

The next year, 1966, Oliva was leading the league with .328 at the end of July, but a 3-for-30 slump in the middle of August cost him a chance at his third straight batting title. He finished with .309, second to Frank Robinson (.316). He led the AL in hits for the third year in a row (191), won a Gold Glove, and finished sixth in MVP voting.

In 1969, Oliva led the AL in hits (197), doubles (39), and third in batting average (.309). He led the AL in hits (204) for the fifth time in 1970. He also led the AL in doubles (36) for the fourth time, and finished second in MVP voting for the second time. In 1970, Tony Oliva was again 2nd in the MVP vote, this time to Baltimore's Boog Powell. In both 1965 and 1970, he was voted Sporting News American League Player of the Year.

In 1971, Oliva won his third AL batting title with a .337 average and led the league in slugging percentage (.546).

The rest of the decade Oliva was hampered by knee, leg, and shoulder injuries. His roommate Rod Carew often heard Oliva "moaning and groaning" and getting up to obtain ice for his sore knees during the night.[7] He missed 34 games in 1968, rebounding the next two years with .309, 24 homers, 101 RBI, and .325, 23, 107, respectively. He missed all but ten games of the 1972 season, which required season-ending surgery. Due to injuries, he became the Twins' designated hitter, which had just been adopted by the American League.

Throughout his career, Oliva possessed a "rather pleasant disposition" and was known as a positive influence in a team's clubhouse.[7] Oliva was popular with the fans and the media of the Twin Cities during his career, and was given the nickname "Tony-O".

In a 1976 Esquire magazine article, sportswriter Harry Stein published an "All Time All-Star Argument Starter," consisting of five ethnic baseball teams. Oliva, a Cuban, was the right fielder on Stein's Latin team.

Post-playing life[]

He currently resides in Bloomington, Minnesota and is married with three children.[8]


In his 15 season career, Oliva batted .304 with 220 home runs, 947 RBI , 870 runs, 1917 hits, 329 doubles, 48 triples, and 86 stolen bases in 1676 games.[1] Oliva was elected to the All Star game his first eight seasons, surpassing Joe DiMaggio's previous record of six. After retiring, he served as a batting coach for the Twins. His number #6 jersey was retired by Twins on July 14, 1991.[8]

It is debated by many that Oliva deserves induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame because of his great offensive numbers in years that were heavily dominated throughout the league by great pitching. In 1981, Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included him in their book The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time. They explained what they called "the Smoky Joe Wood Syndrome," in which a player of truly exceptional talent but whose career was curtailed by injury, in spite of not having had career statistics that would quantitatively rank him with the all-time greats, should still be included on their list of the 100 greatest players. Bill James, utilizing the Keltner list, determined that Oliva was a "viable Hall of Fame candidate", but ultimately did not endorse him as a Hall of Famer.[9] Several contemporaries have endorsed his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, including Tony Pérez, who mentioned in his 2000 induction speech that he hoped that Oliva would soon be in the Hall of Fame.[10]

In the year 2000, Oliva was one of six members of the franchise voted and inducted into the initial class of the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame. Also inducted in 2000 were teammates Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew, along with Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and long time owner Calvin Griffith, who owned the Twins from 1961-1984.

During his playing career, Tony Oliva gave his birthyear as 1940, which was apparently the year on his brother's passport. In 2005, nearly 30 years after the end of his career, the SABR Biographical Committee detrmined that his year of birth was 1938.

See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Tony Oliva Statistics. Retrieved on 2007-01-06.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Peters, Alexander (1967). “Tony Oliva”, Heroes of the Major Leagues. Random House, 130–132.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Tony Oliva FAQ. Tony Oliva Official Web Site.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Tony Oliva Statistics. The Baseball Cube. Retrieved on 2007-01-14.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Peters (134-135)
  6. Povich, Shirley (1966). “The Minnesota Twins”, Ed Fitzgerald: The American League. Grosset & Dunlap, 120.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Template:JamesAbstract
  8. 8.0 8.1 Retired Numbers: Tony Oliva. Retrieved on 2007-01-14.
  9. James, Bill (1995). Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?:Baseball, Cooperstown, and the Politics of Glory. Simon & Schuster, 275–285, 351–352.
  10. Induction Speeches: Tony Perez. Baseball Hall of Fame. Retrieved on 2007-01-14.

External links[]

Preceded by:
Gary Peters
American League Rookie of the Year
Succeeded by:
Curt Blefary
Preceded by:
Carl Yastrzemski
Alex Johnson
American League Batting Champion
Succeeded by:
Frank Robinson
Rod Carew