Saturday, February 1, 2014

Tony Oliva (#50)

Tony Oliva was a hitting machine who played for 17 seasons – all with the Minnesota Twins.

He was signed by the Twins in 1961, and played 3 seasons in the minors, where he batted .410, .350, and .304. After cups of coffee with the Twins in ’62 and ’63, Tony made the team in 1964, and became the Twins’ regular right fielder for the next 8 seasons (starting 140 or more games every season from 1964-70).

In his rookie season, he led the AL with a .323 batting average. He also led in runs (109), hits (217), doubles (43), and total bases (374). He also hit 32 home runs (his career best). Tony was named AL Rookie of the Year, and finished 4th in the MVP voting. He made his first of 8 consecutive all-star appearances.

Olivia followed up his rookie season by leading the AL in batting in 1965, this time with a .321 average, while also collecting the most hits (185). He finished 2nd to teammate Zoilo Versalles in the MVP voting. Although he only hit .192 (5-for-26) in the ‘65 World Series vs. the Dodgers, he hit a home run in game 4 off Don Drysdale.

Tony hit .307 in 1966, but finished 2nd to triple-crown winner Frank Robinson. Oliva picked up his only Gold Glove award in ‘66. Oliva hit .289 in both 1967 and 1968, but had a league-best 34 doubles in ’67.

The next 2 seasons he was back over .300, hitting .309 and .325, while leading the AL in hits and doubles in both ’69 and ’70. Tony hit .385 in the 1969 ALCS, and .500 in the 1970 ALCS.

In 1971 Oliva was limited to 126 games, but lead the league in batting a 3rd time with a career-high .337 average. He also led the AL with a .546 slugging percentage.

Knee injuries hampered Tony for the remainder of his career. He missed all but 10 games of the 1972 season, and when he returned, it was strictly as a designated hitter. He was the team’s full-time DH from 1973-75, and a part-time player in his final season (1976).

I was surprised to see that his career batting average was only .304 (the effect of his last few seasons under .300).

Oliva was a hitting coach for the Twins in the late 1980s.

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