Clemente, Stargell & Oliver: Let’s Complete The Trio

By Bill Neri-Amadeo
Updated: December 21, 2006

LANSING, Mich. — Sometimes in the world of sports, things are overlooked. Sometimes great teams get overlooked, sometimes great players.

Today, I would like to discuss a great team and a great player that have been overlooked by history. The team is the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates and the player is the great Al Oliver.

Let’s take a journey back to 1971. 35 years ago, there was a young team in Pittsburgh that was led by a great veteran right fielder by the name of Roberto Clemente.

This team was groundbreaking not only because of their performance on the field but because they were the first modern team of “color”.

It was this 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates team that fielded the first ever all-minority starting line-up on September 1, 1971 The lineup against the Phillies that day was as follows:<

Rennie Stennett, 2B; Gene Clines, CF; Roberto Clemente, RF; Willie Stargell, LF; Manny Sanguillen, C; Dave Cash, 3B; Al Oliver, 1B; Jackie Hernandez, SS; and Dock Ellis, P.

It was this same team that would go on to beat the Baltimore Orioles and bring the great state of Pennsylvania a world championship. For some reason, this team is not mentioned as one of the elite teams in major league history but when one takes a second glance at this club, they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the Cincinnati Reds and Oakland Athletics teams of the 1970’s.

Another fact many people don’t know about is the incredible starting outfield on that team. Many people know who played right field and others may guess who played left field on that historic team but unfortunately, the center fielder on that team is often overlooked.

As mentioned earlier, the Pirates starting right fielder was Roberto Clemente. Clemente was one of the most unsung players of his time and never truly got the recognition he deserved until after his untimely death in 1973.

Clemente was a larger than life figure in Pittsburgh but never obtained the national appeal he deserved because of playing in the small Pittsburgh market. Clemente was this team’s leader.

Turning to the left fielder, the Pirates starter was a young player by the name of Willie Stargell. Stargell was a powerful hitter who learned a great deal from playing with Clemente and like Clemente, is enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Just as Clemente, Stargell never truly got the recognition he deserved but is one of the greatest hitters in the history of major league baseball. Stargell and Clemente made two thirds of the greatest offensive hitting outfield the world of baseball has ever seen.

Now here’s the $64,000 question, can you name the everyday center fielder on that 1971 Pirates team?

The underrated center fielder has a lifetime batting average of .303, hit 219 homeruns and drove in 1326 runs batted in yet his name escapes the most astute of baseball historians. The name of this great player is Al Oliver.

In 1971, Oliver was a young ball player and the starting centerfielder for Pittsburgh. While not as known as his two counterparts, he was a vital part of that world championship team.

In fact, it was game four of the 1971 NLCS where Oliver hit a three-run homerun that propelled the Pirates into the World Series. Oliver’s play truly complimented the accomplishments of Clemente and Stargell.

The story of Al Oliver did not end in 1971. Oliver went on to be one of the premier hitters of the 1970’s and early 80’s. In 1982, Oliver had one of the greatest offensive seasons in the history of the game when led the National League in hits, total bases, doubles, Runs batted in, runs created and extra-base hits while playing for the Montreal Expos.

One of the reasons more people are not familiar with the accomplishments of Al Oliver is the fact that he played in small markets his whole career.

After his stint in Pittsburgh, he was traded to the Texas Rangers and after that to the Montreal Expos where he put up incredible statistics.

When one looks at historic outfield combinations throughout the history of the game, there was never a more productive one than that of Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Al Oliver.

When reviewing their careers, the statistics of the three men far surpass those of any outfield tandem ever put together. One can only imagine how well known these three men would’ve been had they played in a market such as New York or Los Angeles?<

Al Oliver, like his 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates team has been overlooked by the baseball world. When one looks at his career statistics, Oliver ranks in the top 100 of all-time in 11 major offensive categories.

He had incredible seasons year in and year out and was one of the most feared hitters to ever step on the baseball diamond.

If Al Oliver is elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, it will do two things for the great game:

1) It will bring more notoriety to a historic Pittsburgh Pirates team .

2) It will bring more recognition to one of the greatest outfield ever assembled.

Today, in the world of sports, we always hear sad tales of injustice. We never hear about the good things and good people of the sports world. Putting Al Oliver in between Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell is not only the right thing to do; it will be a great moment for all of baseball.

Finally, this fantastic trio would be given their proper recognition and this recognition would last for the history of time.