Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Al Oliver

Posted: 24th August 2010 by Graham Womack in Al Oliver

Claim to fame: Quietly, Oliver may have been one of the best hitters of the 1970s and ’80s, amassing 2,743 hits and a .303 lifetime batting average, hitting above .300 eleven of his 18 seasons. Oliver had perhaps his best year in 1982 when he led the National League in hits, doubles, runs batted in, and batting average, was an All Star, and finished third in Most Valuable Player voting. Mostly, though, he was a solid supporting player.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Oliver received 4.3 percent of the vote in 1991, his only year on the writers ballot for Cooperstown. Having last played in 1985, Oliver can be enshrined by the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? This was originally going to be a column about Harvey Kuenn, Bill Madlock, Tony Oliva, or Mickey Vernon, other great hitters yet to be inducted. When I began examining their stats, I noticed Kuenn and Madlock each have more than 2,000 hits and a career batting average above .300. I decided to find all the players who achieved this.

Not counting active, recently-retired players, and Pete Rose– who is ineligible for Cooperstown– there are 20 men with at least 2,000 hits and a lifetime batting average of .300 or better. A chart alphabetized by first name follows, with leading stats among the group in bold:

Player R H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS
Al Oliver 1189 2743 529 77 219 1326 .303 .344 .451 .795
Bill Madlock 920 2008 348 34 163 860 .305 .365 .442 .807
Bobby Veach 953 2063 393 147 64 1166 .310 .370 .442 .812
Buddy Myer 1174 2131 353 130 38 850 .303 .389 .406 .795
Deacon White 1140 2067 270 98 24 988 .312 .346 .393 .740
Dixie Walker 1037 2064 376 96 105 1023 .306 .383 .437 .820
Don Mattingly 1007 2153 442 20 222 1099 .307 .358 .471 .830
Ed McKean 1227 2084 272 158 67 1124 .302 .365 .417 .781
Edgar Martinez 1219 2247 514 15 309 1261 .312 .418 .515 .933
George Burns 901 2018 444 72 72 951 .307 .354 .429 .783
Harvey Kuenn 951 2092 356 56 87 671 .303 .357 .408 .765
Jake Daubert 1117 2326 250 165 56 722 .303 .360 .401 .760
Jimmy Ryan 1643 2513 451 157 118 1093 .308 .375 .444 .820
Mark Grace 1179 2445 511 45 173 1146 .303 .383 .442 .825
Patsy Donovan 1321 2256 208 75 16 738 .301 .348 .355 .702
Paul Hines 1217 2133 399 93 57 855 .302 .340 .409 .749
Roberto Alomar 1508 2724 504 80 210 1134 .300 .371 .443 .814
Stan Hack 1239 2193 363 81 57 642 .301 .394 .397 .791
Stuffy McInnis 872 2405 312 101 20 1062 .307 .343 .381 .723
Will Clark 1186 2176 440 47 284 1205 .303 .384 .497 .880


This chart could double as a list of fringe candidates for Cooperstown. The majority of the players could have — and many have had — impassioned cases made for their enshrinement. Depending how one looks at it, Oliver might be most deserving.

Martinez is the group leader for home runs, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, and he obliterates the others on the chart with his .933 OPS, fourth-highest among non-inducted players who have been eligible for Cooperstown. With any defensive ability, Martinez would have been a first-ballot inductee, instead of receiving 36.2 percent of the vote in 2009. As it stands, Martinez redefined the value of an excellent designated hitter and should be enshrined eventually.

Oliver has the most hits, doubles, and runs batted in of the group, and in many respects, he’s the antithesis to Martinez. Where Martinez wasn’t an everyday player until he was 27 and assaulted the offensive leader boards like a man making up for lost time, Oliver was a starter at 22 and remained consistent for the better part of two decades. He was perhaps never a star and rarely the best player on his team but generally a solid teammate, good for about 170 hits, 80-100 RBI and a .300 batting average. I suspect he made a lot of guys better.

Oliver’s Web site features testimonials from Andre Dawson, George Foster, Bob Gibson, and Willie Stargell suggesting he should be in Cooperstown. There’s also a quote from baseball researcher Bill James which ends, “It’s an injustice for him to be off the ballot. He shouldn’t be put in that category. It surprises me that he received so little support.” I don’t know if I’m surprised, but I’ll say this: The stated task of the Veterans Committee is to find players overlooked by the writers. To this end, Oliver seems an ideal candidate for them. I’d vote for him if I could.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

  1. vinnie says:

    Probably slightly better and more consistent than Mickey Vernon, and slightly better than Harold Baines.
    I don’t understand what Bill James is seeing here. None of the three in my estimation belong in the hall.

  2. Always liked him. I watched a lot of Braves & Mets games in the early 80′s and got to see Oliver play a lot. He always struck me as a very tough out. You got me lookin’ at his stats now to see if I remember right of if I’m nuts… and vs the ’83 Braves he hit .367/.418/.469 & vs the ’84 Mets he hit .378/.465/.459 …and this was towards the end of his career. Wow.

  3. Unfortunately hitting a ton of doubles won’t get you inshrined in my book. Actually it’s kind of a thumbs down in my book and a black card for a player with alot of doubles. Look at Billy Butler for example as he had a ton of doubles last season and a decent amount of hr’s. This year however he is down in doubles and for the 3 hole hitter not putting even close to enough balls out of the park. I believe that a guy who hits doubles needs to hit the weight room a little more. Turn the doubles off the wall into round trippers. A double is for the slow guy that has very few or no steals and can’t ever turn a double into a triple. Also lacks the power to put them over the fence. Having over 2,000 hits is going to be a low ball starting point going forward in voting and determinations. Johnny damon is gonna have 3,000 hits does that automatically make him a hall of famer? So I guess i’m saying Oliver would never get my vote as I look for more awards and accomplishments. Numbers comparable to a long list of guys with similar stats doesnt impress for the hall.

  4. New Pants Express says:

    I assume you’re doing this to convince people to visit your crappy blog, and aren’t actually stupid enough to believe Al Oliver belongs in the Hall of Fame. People that stupid run the risk of forgetting how to breathe.

  5. Hello New Pants Express,

    The first time I heard Oliver’s name mentioned in connection with Cooperstown, it seemed a little ridiculous. Then I looked at his career numbers, and it seemed more plausible. A .300 lifetime batting average and 2,700 hits at least merit consideration for the Hall of Fame. Oliver has my vote, and I would add that 19 other writers thought Oliver worthy his only year on the Hall of Fame ballot. Granted, hundreds of other writers chose not to vote for Oliver that year, but I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion.

    Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a regular Tuesday feature here that looks at one non-inducted player each week. From the tone of your comment, I would guess this is your first visit to my site (and possibly your last.) Feel free to stop by again sometime. I value constructive feedback.

    Best wishes,
    Graham Womack

  6. lieiam says:

    first off, in response to vinnie (post #1) i don’t believe bill james was arguing that al oliver should be in the hall of fame; i think he was arguing that he did not deserve to fall off the ballot with less than 5% of the vote.

    as for whether i think al oliver belongs in the hall of fame? NO. i see him very much as a hall of very good kind of player. he had a long career and hit for a good batting average, but not much power for a corner outfielder and didn’t walk a whole lot… so his batting average ends up being more impressive than either his slugging or on base numbers…

  7. Joe M. says:

    New Pants Express,

    Get a life. Just say you don’t think he should be in the hall.

  8. vinnie says:

    Hey pants, relax a bit. That was uncalled for. Baseball is fun and none of us is smart enough to know everything. It would have been nice to have actually heard your reasons why he shouldn’t be a hall of famer(which I agree he shouldn’t be)instead of a slam against a guy who’s trying to get us to think a little bit more.
    So again, relax pants and take a deep breath…

  9. rick says:

    Al Oliver will get another chance at the Hall as he is on the Veterans ballot this year. I always liked Al Oliver. He was one of those players from my youth who I felt were underrated and underrappreciated. Guys like Cecil Cooper, Ken Griffey, Hal McRae, Chris Chambliss etc. Guys who always performed but were simply not as famous as their teammates. I wouldn’t protest Oliver getting elected, but I can’t say I think it is imperative that he be inducted either. The line dividing Hall of Famers from those who aren’t quite there is both thin and quite subjective. But for my money, Al Oliver falls on the “not quite” side of things.

  10. Hi Rick,

    Thanks for commenting. I made some mention of Oliver getting on the Veterans ballot in a post I just did about fellow candidate Ron Guidry. While I doubt Oliver will get in, the fact he’s getting even this much attention from Cooperstown is an accomplishment.

    Best wishes,
    Graham Womack

  11. TomBodet says:

    Oliver is a borderline HOF candidate ala Ted Simmons, Rusty Staub, Steve Garvey, Vada Pinson, Kenny Boyer-but he was awfully Good. Let’s not loose sight of that. The man could really hit, he was a good OF, his teams contended more often than not–I think he deserves a second look from the HOF–and this fall he’s getting just that.

  12. Scott says:

    Oldest player to win a NL batting championship at 36, till Barry Bonds, then forced out by collusion and would have easy got 3000 hits. MLB had to pay those players back. If Andre Dawson and Gary Carter are in, why not the best hitter on that team. Look at the stats 82,83. Rangers all time leading hitter, flew under the radar there also. Was traded out of Pitt right before his 10th year, that was critical because he would have been associated more with the Pirates and had two WS rings. He wasnt flashy, didn’t play in major markets. All he did is hit the ball hard. Thats why he has so many doubles. I read an awful post about doubles, that doesn’t mean he needed to hit the weights, it means his swing didnt have much lift on it. Look at his RBIs. The object of baseball is to hit the ball and score runs! Also he played in the best baseball era ever. He maybe the most under rated player Ive seen so far. Should be in the HOF.

  13. Tom says:

    I think Al Oliver should be in the Hall of Fame. I feel his statistics are good enough. But I remember as a kid growing up in the ’70s watching my beloved Pirates (The Lumber Company) on the NBC Saturday Game of the Week. I remember Curt Gowdy saying how Al Oliver was in such a hot streak at times. It just seemed like every time he came to bat, it was a hard hit ball on the ground, up the middle. Plus I’ve seen some interviews with him, and he’s a real class act. Put that all together, Al Oliver is a Hall of Fammer in my book.

  14. Rob says:

    In Oliver’s 18 yr. career he hit .300 or above for 11 of those yrs. A couple of hundred hit shy of 3000. Over 500 doubles and 1,300 rbi’s. It’s a shame he’s not in the H.O.F. by now.

  15. Slappy Squirrel says:

    There is no doubt that Al deserves in the HOF. Like my name, King Oliver could slap the ball to all fields when necessary, but he also drove the ball, hitting like a line-drive machine.

    Also, he was quite modest (just kidding…he knew he was the man). He ended his career with the Blue Jays from July 1985 until the end of the season. He won some big playoff games and was a leader to the young guys such as Manny Lee and Lou Thornton.

    Old slappy says “YES…AL IS DA MAN!!!”

  16. Rollie Fingers says:

    If you never had to face him and the lumber company your lucky. This guy could flat out hit and hit hard. I was fortunate enough to only face him 6 times in which he got 2 singles a double and a HR. A lifetime 300 hitter with over 2700 hits I think the committee should make a place for him. He gets my vote