02/24/2003 10:35 AM ET
Oliva to sit and wait patiently
Twins great on even keel with Hall announcement near
MINNEAPOLIS -- A few years ago, Tony Oliva had a good feeling that his time for election into the Baseball Hall of Fame had
finally come. Family, friends and well-wishers were all invited to his home in anticipation for a call.
It never came.
"I've learned my lesson," Oliva said.
On Wednesday, Oliva will be one of 26 players who could gain entrance to Cooperstown when results of the Hall of Fame's
Veterans Committee ballot are announced. He will again dutifully wait by the phone at his Bloomington, Minn., home. But this
time he doesn't plan on inviting a bunch of people over to wait with him. He said friends could still stop over if they want.
Oliva remains hopeful that 2003 will be his year, but he isn't making any predictions.
"It's hard to say," Oliva said. "I don't get too high or too low about it. If it happens, it would be beautiful. I think I have a chance but
In a 15-year career (11 full seasons) spent entirely with the Minnesota Twins, Oliva put together a solid résumé as an outfielder
from 1962-76. He batted.304 with 220 home runs, 870 runs scored and 947 RBIs -- respectable numbers, but never automatic
in giving him election to the Hall.
Several personal achievements and awards supplement those statistics. The 1964 American League Rookie of the Year, Oliva
won three batting titles and was the first player in history to win batting titles in his first two seasons. He also led the AL in hits
five times, doubles four times and batted .300 or better six times.
On top of that, Oliva went to eight straight All-Star games (1964-71) and earned his lone AL Gold Glove in 1966.
"My numbers and everything, they speak for themselves," Oliva said.
A right knee injury ultimately reduced his production in his final three years and cut short his career. Even though Oliva was
denied the longevity that benefited others already in the Hall of Fame, former teammate Frank Quilici recently said that he still
"In my estimation, there's never been a better hitter," said Quilici, who also coached and managed Oliva at Minnesota. "I'd say
he's equal to the best who put a uniform on.
"If you talk to the starting pitchers in the American League over the 10-year period that he played and ask them who was the
most feared hitter that they faced, they'd probably tell you it was Oliva."
Oliva is a native of a rural town in Cuba and was signed as a 20-year-old by a Washington Senators scout who watched him
play the game in the sandlots. If Oliva were to reach the Hall, it would conclude an amazing story and career.
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
A frequent visitor and admirer of the Cooperstown museum, Oliva understands just how difficult it is to become a member of
the most elite class in the game. He said he wouldn't be too disappointed if the call doesn't come again this year.
"I'm not going to be mad about it," he said. "So many people play the game but so few get in. You have to be good at the game.
You also have to be good outside the field."
The Veterans Committee comprises mostly living Hall of Famers. It gets to vote on candidates whose first eligibility -- voting by
the Baseball Writers' Association of America -- has expired. Anyone who is named on 75 percent of the ballots cast will be
enshrined with no minimum or limit to how many people can be elected.
If this isn't the year for the 62-year-old Oliva, the next Veterans Committee vote is in 2005. Whether it comes then or on
Wednesday, he will remain poised for the call.
"I've been waiting a long, long time," Oliva said. "Sooner or later, I think it's going to happen."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at
This report was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
"So many people play the game but so few get in. You have to be good at the game. ... I've been waiting a long, long time.
Sooner or later, I think it's going to happen."
-- Tony Oliva