Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Making Tony Oliva's case
All this talk about Ron Santo's Hall of Fame chances has the Minnesota Post's Steve Aschburner just a bit riled:
Did you know that Tony Oliva routinely finished higher in the voting than players who already are enshrined in Cooperstown?
It's true. Oliva's 15 years on the writers' ballot ran from 1982 through 1996. In the 10 years that Pittsburgh second baseman Bill Mazeroski also was on the ballot, Oliva got more votes every time. In the seven years that he shared the ballot with 1967 NL MVP Orlando Cepeda, Oliva finished higher six times.
Wait, there's more. In the three years near the end of Oliva's initial candidacy (1994-96) that relief ace Bruce Sutter was on the ballot, the former Twin outpolled him. And in 1995 and 1996, Oliva got more votes than Boston slugger Jim Rice.
Oliva's wait could get longer still, if the emotions that were tapped by Santo's death last week surface again when the Vets Committee convenes next year. As talented as the Cubs third baseman was at the plate and in the field — he was a five-time Gold Glove winner, a nine-time NL All-Star and a Hall of Famer on each ballot I cast that bore his name — Santo routinely finished behind Oliva in the writers' voting. Well behind, in fact, with an average "finish" between 10th and 11th place. Oliva, on average, ranked between sixth and seventh during their 12 years together on the ballot.
Just so everyone knows that Oliva has the same hopes, desires and dreams, without the same post-playing visibility or even sympathy. And he deserves it just as much or more.
Enough with the waiting already. Enough with posthumous inductions or worse, baseball's on-deck circle. There's a distinction, I suppose, to being the Greatest Player Not in the Hall of Fame. But it's not one any of them wants.
Hear, hear! Let's put yet another corner-outfielder-slash-DH into the Hall of Fame. Because, you know, there just aren't enough of them in there already.
As Dayn Perry pointed out Monday, there are 44 corner outfielders in the Hall of Fame ... and 10 third basemen. Don't those numbers seem just a little out of whack?
Oliva was, it should be said, a great player for eight years (1964-1971). But that's essentially his career. Before those eight years, he didn't play. After those eight years, he was hurt and didn't play well. If we're going to start electing players to the Hall of Fame with eight-year careers, I've got a list longer than your arm. Yes, he has drawn significant support from Hall of Fame voters in the past. Those Hall of Fame voters were misguided.
As for the Greatest Player Not in the Hall of Fame, I've got that list, too. It's distinguished by the presence of names like Bill Dahlen, Pete Rose, Bobby Grich, Tim Raines, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Roberto Alomar, Alan Trammell, and (yes) Ron Santo. I suppose Tony Oliva might be on that list, too, if my arm were a lot longer.
Meanwhile, Kirby Puckett's in the Hall of Fame. Sheesh. You'd think a Twins supporter would be happy with one short-career outfielder in Cooperstown.