#CardCorner: 1980 Topps Ben Oglivie
But Oglivie’s journey to home run king lasted more than a decade in pro baseball – and followed a unique path that brought him all the way from Latin America.
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Born Feb. 11, 1949, in Colón, Panama, Oglivie and his family moved to New York City in 1967 to live with his sister after his father passed away. The thoughtful Oglivie immersed himself in books as a way to learn a new language and culture and graduated from Roosevelt High School in the Bronx. But Oglivie’s athleticism began to catch up with his academics in 1968, and the lanky 6-foot-2 lefty was selected in the 11th round of the 1968 MLB Draft by the Red Sox.
Oglivie hit .311 in 117 games for Class A Greenville and Winter Haven in 1969, then made the jump to Double-A Pawtucket in 1970, where he hit .233. Then in 1971, Oglivie hit .304 with 17 homers and 86 RBI for Triple-A Louisville, earning a late-season call-up to the Red Sox.
In 1972 – with a Red Sox system flush with young outfielders like Jim Rice, Juan Beníquez and Dwight Evans – Oglivie earned a bench role in the big leagues in Spring Training. Oglivie would serve as a reserve outfielder and pinch hitter throughout the season, rarely getting into an everyday rhythm at the plate and finishing with a .241 batting average and eight home runs in 94 games – though he did hit .375 as a pinch-hitter.
It would be a recurring theme throughout the first several seasons of Oglivie’s career.
Oglivie appeared in only 58 games in 1973 as Evans – one of the Red Sox’s top prospects – won the right field job. With Reggie Smith in center field, Tommy Harper in left and defensive ace Rick Miller available off the bench, Oglivie hit just .218 with two homers and nine RBI.
And with Rice and Fred Lynn on the way in the Red Sox’s minor league system, Oglivie was the odd man out. On Oct. 23, 1973, Boston traded Oglivie to the Tigers for infielder Dick McAuliffe.
In Detroit, Oglivie’s playing time increased each season from 1974-77, topping out at 132 games in 1977 when he hit 21 home runs and drove in 62 runs. Tigers manager Ralph Houk was in the midst of a rebuilding project, but finally moved Oglivie into the starting lineup as his right fielder in the spring of ’77.
Oglivie was named to his third All-Star Game in 1983 and remained a productive player well into his 30s, hitting a combined .287 in 204 games in his final two seasons in 1985 and 1986.
He signed with the Kintetsu Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League prior to the 1987 season, playing two seasons and hitting 46 home runs while batting .306.
Oglivie returned to the Brewers organization in 1989, playing two games with Double-A El Paso after injuring his knee in Spring Training. When the knee did not respond, Oglivie called it a career.
“Baseball’s been good to me,” Oglivie told the El Paso Times. “Baseball’s given me everything I have.”
Oglivie finished his career as the all-time leader among Panamanian home run hitters with 235 – a record now held by Carlos Lee with 358. But no Panamanian player has ever hit more home runs in a season than Oglivie’s 41 in 1980 – and only Lee and Rod Carew have more career RBI than Oglivie’s 901.
A rare player who was better in his 30s than he was in his 20s, Ben Oglivie’s perseverance made him a star.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum