I must preface this by saying I am an Arlington native. That city’s history can be divided into “Before Nolan Ryan” and “After Nolan Ryan.” A lot of press comes the way of the teams post-Nolan Ryan. There were indeed some great players: Pudge Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Kenny Rogers, Rafael Palmeiro, Will Clark. But it’s hard to remember that pre-Nolan Ryan, there were some great players, too-Toby Harrah, Gaylord Perry (HOF), Fergie Jenkins (HOF), Jim Bibby, Mike Hargrove (Rookie of the Year), Jeff Burroughs (MVP), Buddy Bell, Bert Blyleven (Future HOF), Mickey Rivers and Al Oliver.
Why he belongs…
2368 games played, good enough for #86 on the All-Time List. 9049 At bats, good enough for #64. 1189 runs good enough for #171. While not too impressive, it’s still more than Pie Traynor, Yogi Berra & Chuck Klein. 2743 hits, #52 on the All-Time List. There are only two people eligible for the HOF who are higher than Oliver who aren’t in: Harold Baines (who is still on the ballot) & Vada Pinson (your guess is as good as mine). 1326 RBI’s, #88. That’s more than Paul Waner, Paul Molitor & teammate Roberto Clemente.
The biggest case for Oliver’s enshrinement is his career doubles numbers, 529, #32 on the All-Time List. Of the 31 players higher than Oliver, only 8 are not in the HOF: Pete Rose, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Luis Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Pudge Rodriguez, Jeff Kent & Manny Ramirez, none of which are eligible (This is Palmeiro’s first year of eligibility). Al Oliver has more doubles than 3 of the greatest hands-down players of all-time: Frank Robinson, Ted Williams & Willie Mays. Those are some names to be better than.
So he piled some impressive career numbers. What about his individual seasons? Well, let me get to those. Al Oliver was a 7-time All-Star, starting in 1. He won the batting title in 1982, becoming the first and one of two Expos in history to lead the league in batting average. (Tim Raines is the other one.) 9 times in the top 10 in batting average. 9 times in the top 10 in hits, including leading in 1982. Top 1o in doubles 9 times, finishing in the top 3 7 times, leading twice. RBI crown in 1982. He was in the balloting for MVP 10 times, finishing as high as #3 in 1982.
He won a World Series in 1971 and made the playoffs 4 times in an era where only 4 teams made it, not 4 from each league.
Baseball-reference.com lists similar players such as Zack Wheat, Joe Medwick, Enos Slaughter (gotta love that irony) and Roberto Clemente (!), all HOF’ers.
Why he doesn’t belong…
Let’s face it. Doubles are not sexy. Chicks dig the long ball. Oliver was a great doubles hitter, but home runs, not so much. At 219, he is at #255. While it’s not bad, it’s just not what the HOF looks at (even though he’s tied with Jim Bottomley).
Oliver also always seemed to be shadowed by other players. In ’72, he finished 7th in MVP voting, behind Willie Stargell. In ’73, he finished 23rd, behind Willie Stargell. In ’74, he finished 7th, the highest Pirate. In 76, he was #12, the highest Pirate. In ’77, he was #16, behind Dave Parker & Bill Robinson. In ’78, he was #14, the highest Ranger. In ’80, he was #11, the highest Ranger. In ’81, #16, the highest Ranger. In ’82, tied for #3 the highest Expo. In ’83, finished #19 behind Andre Dawson & Tim Raines.
In 1991, Al Oliver faced the BBWAA for the first time. He received 4.3% of the vote. What has changed?
So this is a lot of gray area. I think, gun to my head, yes, he is a Hall-of-Famer. The guy was a prolific hitter and a great player in his time.