The Case For Al Oliver And The Hall Of Fame

By Bill Neri-Amadeo
Updated: May 22, 2006

LANSING, Mi — We come here today to discuss the most underrated, under appreciated and under publicized athlete in the history of sports, his name, Al Oliver.

Maybe you’ve heard of him? The odds are you haven’t and that is a crime.

Oliver is one of the greatest hitters to ever step foot on a baseball diamond. He is a figure who has overcome adversity. Early on, he was overlooked and later in his career, he played in small markets.

One thing is certain, the world has never fully appreciated the great talent he displayed night in and night out. Oliver’s story is one for the ages. Oliver has had to overcome tragedy from early in his life.

His mother died when he was only 11 years old and he was raised by his father. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates right out of high school and played in their minor league system for four seasons.

After those four years, Oliver was told he was going to Pittsburgh to play for the big club. On the same day he found out he was going to play in the major leagues, he also found out his father had passed away. Oliver once said in an interview, he literally went to his father’s funeral, then went to report to the Pirates.

As a young player in Pittsburgh, Oliver put up very good numbers. The Pirate teams of the early 70s were one of the first major franchises to employ minority ball players on a regular basis.

The team meshed well together and in 1971, won a world championship when they beat the Baltimore Orioles. Perhaps the most publicized moment of Oliver’s career came in the NLCS that season against the San Francisco Giants.

It was in Game Four of that series when Oliver hit a three-run homerun that gave the Pirates the victory over the Giants and launched them into the World Series.

Make no mistake about it; Oliver was a budding star during his years in Pittsburgh. While he put up great statistics, he never got much recognition. One of the main reasons for this was that he was the center fielder on those teams. Many will ask why that matter does.

The answer is quite simple: Willie Stargell was the left fielder and Roberto Clemente was playing right. Oliver was surrounded and taught the game by two great Hall of Famers who like himself, were minorities.

An outfield this talented and complete with minorities was unusual at this point in Major League Baseball. People did not appreciate the talent Oliver during his early years in Pittsburgh.

Oliver’s career was about to face a major change. In 1978, he would be traded to the Texas Rangers. In Texas, Oliver put up incredible numbers. From 1978 to 1981, he never hit under .309.

In 1980, he played in a record 163 regular season games. He won Silver Slugger Awards in 1980 and 1981 and also made American League All-Star teams.

Despite of all this success, Texas was not a major baseball market in the late 70s and much of what Oliver accomplished fell under the radar.

In 1982, Oliver would get traded to another small market team, the Montreal Expos. Playing north of the border, Oliver would put up even better numbers having no problem readjusting to the National League.

He led the Senior Circuit with a .331 batting average, made another All-Star team, won another Silver Slugger yet no one paid much attention. Even though he played in Montreal, he still finished 3rd in the MVP balloting.

One thing that can not be denied is statistics. During the years Oliver played, there are only two players who have more hits. One is Hall of Famer Rod Carew and the other is the All-Time hit leader who should be in the Hall of Fame, Pete Rose.

During that same time period, only Rose amassed more doubles than Oliver. Perhaps the most surprising statistic Oliver owns is that during his career, there were only three players who had more RBIs, those players are: Reggie Jackson, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench.

To be perfectly frank, Al Oliver is in elite company.

So the story goes, Al Oliver has a career Batting Average of .303. He has 1,326 RBIs, 2,743 hits and 529 doubles. He won three Silver Slugger Awards, a batting title, owns a World Series Ring and made seven All Star teams.

Oliver excelled in both the National and American Leagues. With all of these accomplishments, the question we are left to ponder is, Why isn’t Al Oliver in the Hall of Fame?

People who oppose Oliver will say that he never hit 500 homers or 3,000 career hits. These are weak arguments. The fact remains that Al Oliver was one of the premier hitters of his time period and had it not been for collusion baseball in 1985, Oliver would’ve easily reached 3,000 hits.

Whether it be because he played in small markets or was not a media darling, the fact remains that Al Oliver has never gotten the recognition he deserves. Today he is a motivational speaker and has shown to be a man of great character.

There is no question that Al Oliver has done what is needed on the baseball field to be in the Hall and all of his good works off the field should only solidify his place in the hall.

If Al Oliver played in New York or Los Angeles, he would be considered one of the greatest ballplayers to ever lace up a pair of cleats. It is time for the world to appreciate this mans talent and put Al “Scoop” Oliver next to Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell with a plague in Cooperstown.