Tony O

oliva68-1.jpg
In honor of my ranking on the Leaderboard, I will dedicate my number six to the most beloved Twin to ever wear it (at least most of his career anyway, he was number 37 for a little bit):  Tony Oliva.  Tony O was an outfielder/DH for the Twins for his entire career, from 1962 to 1976, and was one of the greatest left-handed hitters the team has ever had.  He was an eight time All-Star, 1964 Rookie of the Year (’64 was technically his first full year in the major leagues), won a Gold Glove in 1966, and led the league many times in many different offensive categories.  He is also the only major league player in history to win back-to-back batting titles in his first two full major league seasons. Oliva put up some very good career numbers, finishing .304/.353/.467 with 220 home runs, making him 243rd on the all-time home run leaders list.  Unfortunately, his career was hampered by knee injuries that prevented him from putting up Hall-of-Fame worthy numbers.

oliva.jpgThe Twins teams of the late ’60s and early ’70s were absolutely loaded with talent. During his career, Oliva played alongside the likes of infielders Zoilo Versalles and Rod Carew, outfielders Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison, and pitchers Jim Kaat and Mudcat Grant.  Oliva himself though, almost didn’t make the cut.  A Twins scout noticed him while he played in his hometown of Pinar del Rio, and urged the Twins to sign him in 1961.  Oliva appeared in three spring training games, but the organization had already finalized its roster and released him.  He then went on to play for the Twins class A farm team in Charlotte, where manager Paul Howser was so impressed with his raw offensive prowess that he urged the Twins to re-sign him.  They did, and Tony O appeared in a few regular season games in ’62 and ’63 before being sent down for further development.  He made his official major-league debut in 1964, and the rest is (Twins) history.

Tony Oliva was actually born Pedro Oliva Lopez Hernandes Javique in Penar del Rio, Cuba.  His father was a semi-professional ballplayer who helped his son develop into one of the best hitters in Cuba.  When the Twins offered him a contract in 1961, Oliva was initially reluctant to sign.  He didn’t want to leave his family back in Cuba.  However, his father pushed him to take the deal, telling him to go to America and become “rich and famous”.  So the then 18-year-old Pedro Oliva used his 21-year-old brother Tony’s passport to enter the United States.  Although it was later revealed that what was believed to be the 21-year-old Tony Oliva was actually his younger brother Pedro, the name stuck. Oliva legally changed his name to Tony Pedro Oliva in 1990.

In 1971, while chasing down a Joe Rudi fly ball in Oakland, Oliva suffered a catastrophiccarew_tonyo_killebrew.jpg knee injury that he would never fully recover from.  Oliva was moved to the DH slot since his knees could no longer handle playing everyday in the outfield, and though he played another six seasons, his offensive production was never the same.  And while he finished with some very good career numbers, it ignited a fierce debate over whether or not he belonged in Cooperstown.  Some, such as Bill James, would argue that he had a good case based on the numbers he would have put up if he had been healthy (this was the same criteria in which Kirby Puckett was inducted in 2001).  Others would argue that players should only be inducted because of how good they were, not for what they could have done.  The latter group would win out and Oliva was denied induction into the HOF by the BBWAA.  For his part, though, Tony O has never made a huge push to get himself inducted.  It was good enough for him that the franchise decided to honor him by retiring his number and inducting him into the Twins’ Hall of Fame, alongside teammates Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew, as part of the inaugural 2000 class.

Even though he retired from baseball a long, long time ago, Tony O. is still a valuable member of the Twins’ organization.  He helps out the young players with batting practice, and is always willing to give advice:

Here he is playing Wii baseball with his grandson, too:

I guess it’s just like riding a bike.

  • Francisco Liriano rocked in loss to BoSox

Thumbnail image for p1franciscolirianosi.jpgFrankie was tagged for seven earned runs in one inning during the Twins’ 9-4 loss to the Red Sox
yesterday.  He was cruising a long until the third, when he gave up mulit-run bombs to Rocco Baldelli, David Ortiz, and Jason Bay.  It wasn’t the homers that hurt him as much as all of the hitters he walked in that inning (three to be exact).  These would all have been solo shots if he hadn’t issued so many free passes, and the Twins might have won the game.

While I’m not worried about Frankie and how he’s going to perform during the regular season (even though he gave up all those runs, he still struck out five batters in three innings), this awful start highlighted one of his biggest weaknesses:  his inability to locate his fastball.  After returning from Tommy-John surgery last year, the velocity on his fastball has dropped from 93-98 mph to about 89-93 mph.  This drop in velocity isn’t much of an issue as long as Frankie can locate his pitches.  After all, I doubt that his soft-tossing teammate Kevin Slowey has ever touched more than 91 mph on the gun, but he strikes out a lot of hitters with his pinpoint control. 

  • Flood Update:

The Red River crested yesterday at 40.82 feet, though the water hasn’t started to recede yet.  The levees are holding for now, but there is still some concern that they might give under prolonged stress if the river doesn’t start to recede soon.  Two people are reported dead, and there are about 50 injured so far.  Once again, if you would like to help out with the relief effort, go here.  

13 comments

  1. Lissi

    Great dedication blog. I hate injuries. I have decided they are the most evil things in the world. haha
    As long as you keep telling me Frankie will be okay I guess I will believe you. I hope you’re right though. I need him!
    I hope the waters start to recede soon. Last summer in St. Louis the floods were a mess. I just hope no one else is hurt or killed.
    Melissa
    http://clemsongirlbaseball.mlblogs.com

  2. Erin Kathleen

    Julia,Thanks. Hopefully all of our prayers for the people affected by the flood are answered.Melissa,Frankie is one of the pitchers I don’t worry about. He has some things to work on, but he’s still going to be a dominant starter. Hopefully the levees will at least hold until the water recedes.Ash, Thanks! And thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I appreciate all the traffic I can get πŸ™‚

  3. scofid

    Growing up and listening to Twins games on the radio, I remember the last couple of years of Tony Oliva. I didn’t know much about him, so it was great to read your tribute blog. Very well done!

    Scott
    http://fotr.mlblogs.com

  4. Elizabeth D

    Erin,
    Congrats on your ranking, and great dedication post! I really enjoyed it, and I learned a lot! Only guy to win batting titles his first two years– that’s pretty incredible!
    I hope that everything with the flood gets better and that you won’t be affected by it!
    -Elizabeth
    http://redsoxgirl46.mlblogs.com

  5. jonnnnnn

    thanks for the comment… I’m glad people enjoyed my ridiculous #39 post… haha. Anyways, I just want to say that Delmon Young confuses me… I never know what to expect from him… bleh… oh well I avoided him in all my fantasy drafts, so I hope I don’t regret it. p.s. you should put me on your mlblogs linkbar… πŸ™‚

    http://eatsleepmlb.mlblogs.com

  6. Erin Kathleen

    Canuck,I don’t even like video games and even I think the Wii looks like a lot of fun. Scott,Thanks! Tony O has always been one of my favorite players, and I was glad to be bumped up to number six so I could write about him. Elizabeth,Thanks! And I don’t live in the Fargo-Moorhead area, or anywhere near it, so I don’t have anything to worry about. Flood-wise, anyway. It looks like I’m about to get a ton of snow :(Jon,I have been meaning to update my blogroll, as there are a lot of other blogs I’ve discovered that I like a lot besides yours πŸ˜‰ I’ve been kind of lazy about it though, maybe now would be a good time to do it.

  7. Jane Heller

    I’m old enough to remember every single great Twins player you mentioned along with Tony O. What an incredible group. I loved watching Tony, Zoilo, Killebrew, Mudcat (great name), and, of course, Carew. What surprised me about your tribute was that I thought Oliva WAS in the HOF. Shows what I know. He should be! Glad you’re OK with the flooding situation.

    http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

  8. raysrenegade

    that is the only bad omen of the spring. You know that the water will rise up north. I hope you and your town are safe from any type of flooding and rushing water.

    Fantastic piece on Tony Oliva. Every team has that one player who is an international goodwill ambassador for your team. I would think that Oliva takes that title for the Twins.
    No comment on the Demon Young video. I still feel he is a seeping cancer, but that is just my opinion.

    Rays Renegade

    http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

  9. Erin Kathleen

    Jane,I think the most surprising thing about those Twins teams is that they didn’t win any World Series rings. And it’s actually a common misconception that Oliva is in the HOF (I used to think he was, too). He didn’t put up good enough numbers for the voters to give him much consideration, and while there’s little doubt that he would’ve been one of the league’s elite hitters if it weren’t for his knees, it’s not really fair to vote someone in based on what they could have done. The voters might have felt differently if Oliva had led the team to a World Series title (as Kirby Puckett did).Jeff,Sadly, even at the age of 70, Tony O is probably better at Wii baseball than me.Rays Renegade,I live several hundred miles southeast of the flooded area, so yes, I’m fine. I just thought some of my readers might want to help out those affected by the flooding, though. I know you don’t like Delmon, and you are perfectly justified in feeling that way. I can’t say he’s one of my favorite players, either. But it seems as though guys like Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer (and Tony O) are having a positive influence on him, so maybe he won’t be such a jerk anymore.

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