Oliva awaits Veterans Committee bid
All-Star spent entitre injury-shortened career with Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS -- One week every January, Tony Oliva travels across the Upper Midwest with the Twins Winter Caravan.And each year, the Twins legend is asked the same question at all the stops the Caravan makes: When is he finally going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame? It's an honor that has now eluded Oliva for over two decades, but he'll have another shot at earning a trip to Cooperstown this December. Oliva is one of 10 players to be considered for the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. Any player receiving at least 75 percent of the vote from the Veterans Committee, which consists of the 64 living Hall of Famers, will be enshrined as part of the Class of 2009. Results from the Veterans Committee vote will be revealed at noon CT on MLB.com on Monday from baseball's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. This will mark Oliva's fourth appearance on the Veterans Committee ballot. The other members of the post-1943 Veterans Committee final ballot are Dick Allen, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Al Oliver, Vada Pinson, Ron Santo, Luis Tiant, Joe Torre and Maury Wills. Considered by many to have been one of the great outfielders of his era, Oliva spent his entire 15-year career in Minnesota. From 1962-76, a period that included 11 full seasons, he batted .304 with 220 home runs, 947 RBIs and 870 runs scored. He was the winner of the 1964 American League Rookie of the Year Award and earned three batting titles over that span.
Among other achievements on his resume, Oliva was the first player to win batting titles in each of his first two seasons. He led the AL in hits five times and doubles four times, and he batted .300 or better six times. He also made eight straight trips to the All-Star Game, from 1964-71, and he earned an AL Gold Glove in 1966.But what has likely kept Oliva trapped in the Bermuda Triangle in voters' minds was his truncated career. A right knee injury that he suffered in 1971 caused him to miss most of the '72 season and nearly forced him to retire. The introduction of the designated hitter rule in '73 allowed him to return to the field, but his production was never quite the same, and Oliva retired three seasons later. "I put up a lot of great numbers," said Oliva, who now works as a community ambassador for the Twins. "I know my career was short, but I did things no one did before. I wasn't just a great hitter -- I did a lot of other stuff. I could run, I could throw and catch. I was an all-around ballplayer." Earning the honor of enshrinement into Cooperstown would certainly be a crowning achievement for Oliva, but it's not something that would overshadow all that he was able to accomplish during his career. For Oliva, it's the appreciation of being able to play at all that is his lasting legacy. "How could a little guy like me from Cuba, get to the U.S. and play in the big leagues?" Oliva said. "It's a big miracle. I came from a small town in Cuba, from a poor family. But somehow, I came here and played with the best baseball players in the world. It's unbelievable."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.