First Moose, Now Tony O.
Right on the heels of Mike Mussina announcing his retirement and that subsequent Hall of Fame debate, the Veterans Committee for the HOF announced its 2009 ballot. First and foremost in the minds of Twins fans was the inclusion of popular Twins star Tony Oliva on that ballot. Does Oliva have a chance to get a hanging plaque in the great Hall? Well, let’s start by looking at the stats…
-13 seasons, 1,917 hits, 220 HR, .304 BA, 8 All-Star Appearances, Rookie of the Year Award in 1964, twice finished second in MVP voting.
By looking at those stats, I would consider Tony O. to be the epitome of an “on the fence” candidate for the Hall. When healthy (and that is key), Tony was perhaps the best pure hitter of the American League during the mid to late 1960s. However, knee injuries plagued Oliva for much of his career, getting so bad that he could hardly run anymore by the time he retired. Thus, much like Mickey Mantle, Oliva never really was able to play at his true potential for any extended period of time, as those knees always ailed him.
What bolsters Oliva’s case, though, is the work that he has done away from the game, as he has been a loyal, devoted member to the Twins organization since his retirement and has been a great ambassador to the Latin American community (he was born in Panama).
So, do I think Oliva belongs in the Hall of Fame? I would have to say no. It’s tough to deny a guy a spot just because of injuries, but I don’t think Tony O. played at a high enough level for a long enough period to earn that bronze plaque. I think that other former Twins still on the ballot such as Bert Blyleven and Jim Kaat have much more solid cases for the Hall than does Oliva.