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Al Oliver - Hall of Famer?

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  • Al Oliver - Hall of Famer?

    Al Oliver had more than 2,700 hits and a .303 lifetime average. He also had more than 500 doubles and 1,300 RBI, playing most of his career in neutral or pitcher's parks from 1968-85.

    He was a 7-time all star and finished in the top ten in MVP voting several times. He won a World Championship ring with Pittsburgh in 1971.

    His career numbers are not dissimilar to Jim Rice except that Oliver hit for average while Rice hit for more power. Oliver's closest career comparison is Steve Garvey (using similarity scores), but what's interesting is that Kirby Puckett - a first-ballot Hall of Famer - retired at the age of 34 with a career most similar to Al Oliver's through the same age. The difference? Puckett retired because of the glaucoma while Oliver continued to play another 4-5 seasons. In fact, Oliver's next season (at age 35 in 1982) is arguably the best season of his career.

    Garvey is a popular Hall of Fame candidate. So is Rice. And Puckett was a first-ballot electee?

    Why is Al Oliver ignored so much? I believe he should receive some consideration by the Veterans Committee next time. It's too bad this wonderful hitter hasn't been remembered much.

    Does anyone else remember Oliver? Does anyone else think he should receive more than a cursory glance, if the likes of Garvey/Rice are considered serious candidates? Does anyone have an educated guess as to why Oliver didn't receive more attention when he became eligible? I mean the guy received a paltry 19 votes out of 444 (4%) in his only year on the ballot.

    I think he unfairly got the shaft without the benefit of any real consideration by the writers. Anyone agree? Disagree?
    "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
    "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
    "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
    "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe

  • #2
    I was an Al Oliver fan. I remember watching him win the batting title while with the Expos. (1982, as mentioned as his best season by Chancellor.) That was a fun team to watch.

    I have never understood why Oliver has been so unappreciated. He produced year-in, year-out. Maybe if he was still with Pittsburgh when they won it in 1979 instead of playing with Texas would he have received a little more notice. They guy wasn't flashy, but he was a fine ballplayer. I'd rank him just above Cecil Cooper and on par with Lou Whitaker as someone the HOF voters tragically ignored in recent years.

    He deserved far better.
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    • #3
      No Flash. Al's weakness was that he didn't stand out and he didn't fit in. He didn't hit for very much power, so his HR total is seriously low, so he didn't fit well in the heart of the lineup. He didn't draw a lot of walks and was a fairly slow runner, so he couldn't bat at the front of the lineup. And what contender seriously wants to pay the salary of a perennial lifetime .300 hitter to have them bat in the bottom of your lineup (other than Boston and NY, that is)? So he consistently got stuck with poor or mediocre teams who didn't have anyone better, and that also contributed to him not getting either a lot of runs or RBIs. He's yet another player who comes close, but falls just short due the circumstance of where he played. He falls into the same category as a Mark Grace, who is also a very good ball player who'll never see the inside of the hall without buying a ticket.

      Now Jimmy Rice, man did I love him and those old Red Sox. They made me the fan that I have remained to this day. Go Red Sox! Spike the Bambino! But he needed just one more good year to make the cut. He was almost there when his big new contract kicked in and he decided to coast to an early retirement. &*@$&(%)!!! I hate players like that, god forbid Javy get a big long term contract even if he did carry my fantasy team when Piazza broke his pinky nail!


      • #4
        He won't make it.
        I share pictures from my collection of baseball photographs on twitter @PastimeClassics


        • #5
          Chancellor summarizes Oliver's case really well, and I totally agree that Oliver deserves much more consideration.

          He doesn't mention one salient fact, however -- Oliver was primarily a center fielder throughout his twenties, and played a plurality of his career games there.

          He was just an ordinary fielder in CF (perhaps someone can chime in here who actually saw him play CF -- I'm just old enough to remember him as a corner OF/1b), but it's generally agreed that one gets extra credit for playing a skill defensive position well. CF is on the easier end of the hard positions, usually ordered in roughly this order:


          Sometimes people say LF is harder than 1b, or 3b is harder than CF. That's debatable, but there's really three tiers:

          Hard, primarily defensive: C, SS, 2b

          In-between positions, defensive and offensive responsibilities: CF, 3b

          Easier positions, primarily offensive: RF, 1b, LF

          CF and 3b have a hard time in HOF voting because their responsibilities are a little protean and outside of guys like Mays, Mantle, and Schmidt, it's rare to get the player who's no-questions-asked qualified on both sides of the ledger.

          I think CF is even a little trickier because it's exceedingly rare for someone to play a full career there. Once a productive CF loses a step, he tends to get moved to a corner pretty quickly, which tends to make people forget he was a CF (as many do with Oliver, for example, or Andre Dawson).

          Also, just another point of information, Oliver was the regular CF on the 1971 WS champion Pirates, less famous than the 1979 team, but probably as good or better. His fellow OF were Clemente and Stargell; I'd stack that OF (Stargell-Oliver-Clemente) up against just about any other one in history.


          • #6
            I actually remember being shocked the year Oliver fell short on the Hall of Fame ballot. I didn't expect him to get elected that year, but to not even receive the minimum number of votes to remain eligible was mind boggling to me.This struck me as one of those cases of the sports writers having short term memory. Perhaps he was hurt but playing the later half of his career with several different ballclubs rather than racking up his impressive career totals in one city where he may have drawn more media attention?

            I'd actually take issue with altan's assessment of Oliver's HR total as being "seriously low". Yes, it's low for a power hitter, but 219 is a decent amount for someone with a career batting average over .300. Consider this, he has the same career batting average as Rose, with 27% more homeruns. Obviously, I'm not saying he was the same calibre player that Rose was, but you can see that his home run numbers also aren't paltry by comparison. As a matter of fac,t he also has a similar amount of RBI to Rose with 5000 fewer at bats. Once again, it may not be fair to compare the two on such a limited basis, but it does point out that Oliver did posses a decent power/average combination.


            • #7
              Commish, I respect ya man, but that total is an average of less than 12 HRs per year and fewer than 30 doubles. He broke 100 RBIs twice and 100 runs never. Not the numbers for a 3, 4 or 5 hitter, and not the speed for a 1 or 2. If a .303 BA and 12 HRs alone would get you into the Hall of Fame, then Mark Grace is a shoe in. And comparing an alleged heart of the lineup hitter's RBIs to a leadoff hitters isn't really a good idea, as I'm sure in the back of your mind you were aware. We won't even cover the HR's of a contact hitting leadoff man to those of the guy supposed to drive him in.

              Oliver had a nice career and was a very good and consistent batter. He didn't really have anything else going for him. And for once I'm happy to see a very good player not get enshrined with the very great players. Can't a guy have a good career without being a HoFer? No offense intended, but he just doesn't belong in the class of the greats, much like a good third of the guys who are there already, unfortunately. But you may take issue with me if you wish. I've got a girlfriend, so I'm used to it.

              FIRE GRADY LITTLE!!!


              • #8
                Originally posted by altan
                ...I'm happy to see a very good player not get enshrined with the very great players. Can't a guy have a good career without being a HoFer?

                My outrage is directed at people who would vote in Mark Grace (to beat a dead horse, as an example here) but don't give Al Oliver one ounce of consideration. There'll be some sportswriters who pull this kind of shenanigan soon enough, with Grace retiring this year.

                And not just Grace, but Garvey or any other number of similar players. I can concede Rice was better on account of more walks/power and an MVP Award; makes for a better case.

                My best guess is that Oliver's late career was spent at first base for the Rangers and Expos - two teams which received scant attention in the late 1970s, early 1980s.

                Other than that, I'm at a loss. As Cougar pointed out, I remember Oliver as the line drive-hitting first baseman for Montreal "back in the day."

                I'm not arguing that Oliver should be elected per se, but that others who are clearly similar (or not as good) somehow receive greater support - and inexplicably so. Well...inexplicably if the answer isn't related to the fact that most of the more-hyped players spent years in Los Angeles, Chicago or New York as opposed to places like Pittsburgh, Arlington, TX and Montreal.
                "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
                "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
                "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
                "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe


                • #9
                  Like I said, 219 homers is low for a power hitter and perhaps can be considered low for a Hall of Famer. I guess it's just a matter of semantics, but I don't consider to that be a low total in general terms. I also don't want to give the wrong impression. I'm not necessarily pushing Al Oliver for Cooperstown either. However, I do feel he deserves a lot more credit and consideration in voters' minds than he ever received. I could definitely understand if Oliver had remained on the ballot for twenty years and never made it. However, to have been kicked off the island after only one year was an injustice. He won a batting title, an RBI title, was a sevn time All-Star selection, is 25th all-time in doubles, has 2700+ hits and career .300+ BA and yet only received 19 votes? That was just wrong.


                  • #10
                    Yeah, I'll give ya that. He gave enough to the game that he deserved to at least be given the respect that many lesser players have been shown. And I'll be next in line to boycott if Grace gets in just because people seem to like him better. Just exactly who did Oliver spit on to deserve lesser treatment than Grace, who is probably a lesser player based on career achievements? Perhaps it was just the markets he played in, but sports writers cover all markets, so that shouldn't be an excuse, unless they knew that people wouldn't notice their lack of respect to a player in those markets. I guess we just don't know how much what the general public thinks and supposedly knows affects their voting. If they knew he would never get in and knew there would be no great cry of outrage, then perhaps they decided to just get it over with quickly instead of having to keep it up for 20 years. But here's to you, Oliver. You had a very good career, and probably had the potential to be a HoFer had you been in the right place. CHEERS!
                    Last edited by altan; 10-17-2003, 01:48 PM.


                    • #11
                      I watched Al Oliver play many times in the 70's for the Pirates. And I remember when the trade rumors started to spread, he finally spoke out and said "What do they want?". At the time I think he had a bout a .290 lifetime average. He bettered that (to his great credit) in the AL. I remember him as a fine fielder, not a gold glover, but you felt good about Al in center

                      He just was not the type of player who could strike fear (at least while at Pittsburgh) in the opponents or give his team the big boost it needed. His numbers are definitely there. For my money, I'd say he's close, but he's gonna be overlooked because of the sub-300 home-run total, and Clemente and Stargell, and to a lesser extent Parker and Sanguillen overshadowed him in his prime years.

                      To me, his numbers and his play were better than Barry Larkin, but I'll bet Larkin gets more consideration when his time comes, because of being a Shortstop.


                      • #12
                        How does Oliver stack up against other center fielders, though?

                        Here's some food for thought:

                        Oliver's 1,341 (career) Runs Created (RC) are the most by a center fielder from 1961-1999. That's almost four full decades!

                        If you go back one year, to 1960, then Willie Mays jumps ahead of Oliver. If you go forward one year, to 2000, Ken Griffey Jr. does.

                        But essentially, what this tells me is that Oliver was the most productive center fielder in baseball between Mays and Griffey.

                        If that's the case, isn't that a powerful argument for his election?
                        "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
                        "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
                        "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
                        "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe


                        • #13
                          Most Career Runs Created, 1961-1999, by position

                          C - Carlton Fisk (1,362 RC)
                          1B - Pete Rose (2,205 RC)
                          2B - Joe Morgan (1,804 RC)
                          SS - Robin Yount (1,644 RC)
                          3B - George Brett (1,869 RC)
                          LF - Carl Yastrzemski (2,127 RC)
                          CF - Al Oliver (1,341 RC)
                          RF - Dave Winfield (1,796 RC)
                          DH - Paul Molitor (1,869 RC)

                          Now...dare I be premature in suggesting that, once eligible, Molitor and Rose will both be elected, leaving Oliver as the only player on this list who isn't in the Hall of Fame.
                          "It is a simple matter to erect a Hall of Fame, but difficult to select the tenants." -- Ken Smith
                          "I am led to suspect that some of the electorate is very dumb." -- Henry P. Edwards
                          "You have a Hall of Fame to put people in, not keep people out." -- Brian Kenny
                          "There's no such thing as a perfect ballot." -- Jay Jaffe


                          • #14
                            That's a great case, but you can see the reason why he wasn't voted in: Other than Fisk, who plays the most specified defensive position out there, he has created quite a few less runs than the rest. That includes the middle infield and hot corner.

                            He'll always have some sort of shot at it as long as the VC exists; not a good one right now or in the near future, but it's there.

                            Where would his career Runs Created / Win Shares rank among HOFers?


                            • #15
                              Weren't you listening?????? He never made a mark in his prime years!!!!! THAT IS WHY HE WON"T GET IN!!!

                              TONY PEREZ IS A FLUKE!

                              In the words of Neil Young...

                              "Red means run, Son, numbers add up to nothing"

                              Believe IT


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