Always a hit

Oliver, a .300 career hitter, on Expansion Era Committee Hall of Fame ballot

November 30, 2010
Al Oliver is one of 12 candidates on the Expansion Era ballot for Hall of Fame election. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Watch a video on the Expansion Era ballot

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Al Oliver set his sights on baseball history from the moment he debuted in the big leagues.

Now, Oliver stands one step short of baseball immortality – and the Hall of Fame.

Oliver, who played for the Pirates, Rangers, Expos, Giants, Phillies, Blue Jays and Dodgers during 18 big league seasons, is one of 12 finalists on this year's Expansion Era ballot that will be considered by the committee on managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The 16-person committee will vote on Dec. 5 at baseball's Winter Meetings in Orlando, and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 6.

The 12 candidates on the ballot are: Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Pat Gillick, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Ted Simmons, Rusty Staub, George Steinbrenner and Oliver. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2011.

The committee consists of Hall of Fame members Johnny Bench, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith; major league executives Bill Giles (Phillies), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Orioles) and Jerry Reinsdorf (White Sox); and veteran media members Bob Elliott (Toronto Sun), Tim Kurkjian (ESPN), Ross Newhan (retired, Los Angeles Times) and Tom Verducci (Sports Illustrated).

Born Oct. 14, 1946, in Portsmouth, Ohio, Oliver signed with the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1964 – one year before the first MLB Draft. Oliver made his big league debut at the end of the 1968 season, and the next year the sweet-swinging lefty played his way into the Bucs' lineup – finishing second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting after hitting .285 with 17 homers and 70 RBI.

Oliver spent time in the outfield and at first base his first two full seasons, then moved to center field in 1971 – helping the Pirates win their second straight NL East title by hitting .282 with 14 homers and 64 RBI. In the postseason, Oliver drove in five runs in the NLCS against the Giants and drove in two more in the World Series en route to Pittsburgh's seven-game triumph over the Orioles.

"I always try to be better," Oliver said early in his career. "I work on every part of this game. I feel I am capable of becoming a complete player."

Starting in 1972, Oliver was undoubtedly one of the most consistent hitters in the game – topping the .300 mark in 11 of his next 13 seasons. During that span, Oliver was named to seven All-Star teams, received Most Valuable Player votes in 10 seasons (finishing third in the 1982 NL MVP race with Montreal) and won three Silver Slugger Awards.

Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver once called Oliver "the toughest out" in a Pirate lineup filled with sluggers like Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.

The Pirates traded Oliver to the Rangers following the 1977 season in a deal for Bert Blyleven, and in four full seasons with Texas he never hit less than .309. The Rangers dealt Oliver to Montreal right before the 1982 season, and the 35-year-old Oliver responded with best season – hitting a league-best .331 with 22 homers while leading the NL in hits (204), doubles (43), RBI (109) and total bases (317).

"I'd like to reach 3,000 hits," said Oliver early in his career. "I see Clemente going for it and it gives me the idea that maybe I can do it, too."

Oliver fell just short, retiring with 2,743 hits after the 1985 season following stints with the Giants, Phillies, Dodgers and Blue Jays. He finished with a .303 career average, 529 doubles (32nd on the all-time list) and 1,326 RBI.

Craig Muder is the director of communications at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum