Tony Oliva: Baltimore Orioles Nemesis from the Past


Jul 20, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Former Minnesota Twin player Tony Oliva throws out a ceremonial first pitch before a game between the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

It may seem odd for a Baltimore Orioles writer to be talking about a Minnesota Twins player from the distant past. But any O’s fan who can remember the 1960s will understand.

Tony Oliva of the Twins was a total pain for the Orioles year in and year out. The native Cuban right fielder was an American League All Star for eight consecutive seasons from 1964 to 1971.

If you know your Orioles history, those years coincide with the four American League Championships of 1966, 1969, 1970 and 1971.

Oliva’s name was one of nine players who were voted upon by the Veteran’s Committee for the Baseball Hall of Fame on the Golden Era (1947-1972). To secure the nomination induction, a player had to garner at least 12 of the 16 votes. Oliva (along with Dick Allen) received 11 votes.

Like several other older commenters on various baseball sites, I found myself saying, “Oliva is not already in the Hall?”

Even though he drove Orioles pitchers crazy (.362 off Jim Palmer, .357 off Dave McNally, .370 off Pat Dobson, .326 off Wally Bunker, and .500 on 17-for-34 off Tom Phoebus), one could not help but admire the talent and picture-perfect swing.

Remember, this was in an era of baseball where offensive production was even lower than it is now, most of it before the pitcher’s mound was lowered in order to increase offense.

Oliva won the batting title three times, including his rookie season of 1964 when he hit .323.

His career average against the Orioles was .331 over a total of 157 games – essentially a full season. The only other team he beat up more than the Birds was the Red Sox at .357, in an era when Boston was a mostly awful team.

At Memorial Stadium – no Camden Yards or Wrigley Field – he hit an outstanding .341.

So why is he not in the Hall with his .304 career average and 220 home runs?

Well, it has to do with the length of his career. He had those eight great seasons previously mentioned, capped off with a .337 batting title in 1971. But he played only 10 games in 1972, and his career tailed off after that point – though he still hit .284 from 1972-1975.

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  • Looking at his statistics on, he is listed as age 25 in his rookie season of 1964. However, it is almost certain that he was about three years older than that. Latin players of that era frequently had sketchy birth certificate records and often fudged on their ages.

    There is a great SABR biography page on Oliva that talks about this and his entire career.