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Friday, November 23, 2012

Hurte: Should Cooperstown Welcome Al Oliver?

Oliver! Out exclamation marking Lionel Bart!

But then there is Al Oliver who played on those great Pirates teams of the seventies.  He has three teammates that are in the Hall of Fame, Clemente, Stargell, and Mazeroski.  Although he was runner up for the Rookie of Year in 1969, he never seemed to have a steady position.  First there was the roadblock at first base with Bob Robertson.  At the time, Robertson was thought of as the next Ralph Kiner.  This meant Oliver played the outfield, not exactly his strong suit.  When Robertson did not cut it, Oliver was again denied the opportunity to play first because Willie Stargell played there because of an injury.  Eventually Al became the starter at first base, but all of the switching between playing outfield and first base might have stunted his development as a major league player.

“Al, as a lifetime .300 hitter after 18 seasons, I feel is deserving of induction into the Hall of Fame.  There is no question in my mind had he not been forced out of the game by collusion, had he been given an all-out honest attempt to achieve 3,000 hits, he would have done it.  He was pushed out of the game when he was still a .300 hitter.  I feel he deserves a place in baseball history.”

-Andre Dawson

...Al Oliver is a dynamic motivational speaker and after finishing his career, has formed an organization to help others.  He lost both his parents at an early age, leaving him as the parenting figure for his pregnant sister and younger brother.  If it were not for his faith and trust in God, he could have easily succumbed to the demons that other star athletes have faced.  But he did not.

This is why I believe the Veterans Committee should welcome him with open arms through the doors in Cooperstown!

Repoz Posted: November 23, 2012 at 08:36 AM | 22 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, hof, pirates

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Matthew E Posted: November 23, 2012 at 09:13 AM (#4308255)
They should certainly welcome him.

But they shouldn't induct him.
   2. BDC Posted: November 23, 2012 at 09:48 AM (#4308268)
We had another thread on this … a comps list I worked up then had the most similar players in baseball history as being Chili Davis, Brian Downing, and Mickey Vernon – which is no slight to any of them, as they were all excellent ballplayers. The most similar Hall of Famers are probably George Sisler and TFE-mentioned Andre Dawson; in fact, if you could picture Dawson becoming Sisler over the course of his career, you'd approximate Oliver in some ways. But Sisler and Dawson are in the Hall of Fame because they were fast runners with fine defensive reputations, and Oliver was neither; he simply never had their value. And Sisler was a somewhat better hitter; he's "most similar" but not really all that close.
   3. Ron J2 Posted: November 23, 2012 at 10:07 AM (#4308272)
#2 Sisler's not really a good comp. He specialized in batting average and played (mostly) in a hitter's park in the 1920s. People genuinely thought the Sisler of the early 20s was a truly great player. People picking all-time teams in the 30s and 40s were as likely to pick Sisler as Gehrig or Foxx.

Also there's the injury factor. Some players (Sisler and Puckett come to mind) get credit for what might have been.
   4. AndrewJ Posted: November 23, 2012 at 10:17 AM (#4308274)
Oliver posted some very nice career numbers, but he was never dominant as a Hall of Famer should ideally be (and for all of the flaws of Oliver's teammate Dave Parker, he was a truly dominant player for several seasons). I put him in the Vada Pinson/Rusty Staub/Johnny Damon category.
   5. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: November 23, 2012 at 10:26 AM (#4308277)
Oliver posted some very nice career numbers, but he was never dominant as a Hall of Famer should ideally be.

He sure was on
Sunday, August 17, 1980 in front of this observer who participated in the raucous standing ovation for homer number four on the day, which sort of offset the cosmically unfair and unceasing decline of the home nine's Game 1 starting pitcher.

   6. Bob Meta-Meusel Posted: November 23, 2012 at 12:27 PM (#4308346)
People genuinely thought the Sisler of the early 20s was a truly great player.


Before the eye infection, Sisler was one of the best players in the league. In both 1920 & 1922 he was second in WAR (bbref version), in 1922 finishing second to pitcher Red Faber and in 1920 to one of Ruth's most dominant seasons.

From 1917-1922 his ranking in WAR among position players went as follows: 5,1,4,2,5,1. Was he Gehrig or Foxx? Of course not, but for a 6 year stretch there he was one of the best players in the league.
   7. Ron J2 Posted: November 23, 2012 at 01:27 PM (#4308390)
#6 Sure, fine player. Also overrated since so much of his value was in BA and (as mentioned) he played in the 1920s (great time to hit for average) and in a hitter's park.

On the flip side, his play in the dead ball era was somewhat under-valued, so that he was seen a a guy who was briefly (1920-22) an all time great.
   8. Bob Meta-Meusel Posted: November 23, 2012 at 03:31 PM (#4308443)
#7 I'll grant you that until 20 years or so ago he was definitely overrated, but I sometimes think that the pendulum has swung so far the other way that he's become underrated now. We've gone from once hearing him mentioned with Gehrig and Foxx to now talking about him with Al Oliver. This is someone who, despite a career that didn't add any real value after the age of 29 was almost certainly the best ML first baseman between Anson/Brouthers/Connor on one side and Gehrig/Foxx on the other, but I think we've been spending so much time trying to knock him down from being overrated that we've gone a little bit too far.

   9. DanG Posted: November 23, 2012 at 06:53 PM (#4308497)
A dozen OF and 1B comps for Scoop:

Player               WAR/pos OPS+    PA Rfield From   To   Age    H   BA
Bernie Williams         45.9  125  9053   
-139 1991 2006 22-37 2336 .297
Jim Rice                44.3  128  9058     24 1974 1989 21
-36 2452 .298
Ed Konetchy             43.2  123  8663     50 1907 1921 21
-35 2150 .281
Mark Grace              43.0  119  9290     76 1988 2003 24
-39 2445 .303
Joe Judge               42.2  114  9178     35 1915 1934 21
-40 2352 .298
Jimmy Ryan              41.2  124  9124     
-5 1885 1903 22-40 2513 .308
'Al Oliver              40.2  121  9778    -40 1968 1985 21-38 2743 .303'
George Van Haltren      39.9  122  9017    -39 1887 1903 21-37 2544 .316
Jake Daubert            36.8  117  8744     23 1910 1924 26
-40 2326 .303
Dave Parker             36.3  121 10184    
-19 1973 1991 22-40 2712 .290
Steve Garvey            34.4  117  9466      1 1969 1987 20
-38 2599 .294
Chili Davis             34.2  121  9997    
-15 1981 1999 21-39 2380 .274
Mickey Vernon           30.1  116  9838    
-22 1939 1960 21-42 2495 .286 
   10. Walt Davis Posted: November 23, 2012 at 07:02 PM (#4308500)
Also overrated since so much of his value was in BA and (as mentioned) he played in the 1920s (great time to hit for average) and in a hitter's park.

Grrr. ...

Serenity now ...

I'll eave that aside. But Sisler's greatness consists of 7 seasons. In those 7 seasons, he was top 10 in OBP 5 times, in SLG 6 times, in OPS 6 times, in OPS+ 7 times including 5 in the top 5. In those 7 seasons, he had 45 WAR. As to his power ... at the start of his run, league ISOs were in the range of 80 while his was around 100; in the second part of his run, league average ISO had jumped to 110-120 while his was 175+ (peak of 225). From 1916 to 1922 he was 5th in WAR, just 1 win behind Cobb for 4th and 11 wins ahead of Collins in 6th. As near as I can tell, the 3rd best NL position player total of the time was Heinie Groh with 30. Sisler at his peak was second in the league only to Hornsby.

Outside of those 7 seasons he wasn't worth much. Still, epxand it for 5 years either side and he's still 10th in WAR and the only NLer clearly better is still Hornsby with Wheat, Carey. Groh, Hooper and Bancroft all roughly equal.

For more recent comparisons, looking at WAR from ages 23 to 29, he's roughly equal to Rickey. Other nearby familiar names are Brett, Thomas, F Robinson, Griffey. he's 3.5 wins ahead of guys like Bagwell and Reggie for those ages.

George Sisler in his prime was one hell of a good player, even if it was "all BA."
   11. Booey Posted: November 23, 2012 at 08:30 PM (#4308518)
#10 - Sure, but doesn't a great peak and not much else still put him in a category with Mattingly, Murphy, Nomar, Albert Belle, and a bunch of other guys who aren't HOFers? On a list of first basemen, I'd still rank him below the likes of Hernandez, Will Clark, McGriff, Olerud, and probably several others that aren't in the HOF.

And it was a lot easier being one of the 5 or 10 best players back in the 1920's than it is today.
   12. Booey Posted: November 23, 2012 at 08:37 PM (#4308522)
Al Oliver's numbers look somewhat like Molitor's but in a shorter career and without the stolen bases. And Molitor probably wouldn't have been a HOFer without the steals and the longevity to get 3,000 hits (not that Oliver didn't have longevity, but it wasn't enough to hit any major milestones.)
   13. SoSH U at work Posted: November 23, 2012 at 09:03 PM (#4308532)
#10 - Sure, but doesn't a great peak and not much else still put him in a category with Mattingly, Murphy, Nomar, Albert Belle, and a bunch of other guys who aren't HOFers?


Sisler's 7-year run was considerably better than anything put by any of those guys, at least if WAR is your thing. Even allowing for non-consecutive runs for the rest (which George didn't require).

* Nomar was on pace for a similar run, but his peak only ran for six seasons.

   14. Tubbs & Minnie Miñoso don't fear Sid Monge Posted: November 23, 2012 at 11:08 PM (#4308551)
What I find interesting is Dawson's quote about Oliver being forced out by collusion. I don't know this for a fact but I remember reading somewhere that Oliver got pinch hit for in the '85 ALCS & burnt some bridges by losing his cool on the bench. Oliver looked to be on a decent paced to 3,000 as late as '83 and then had a horrid '84 where he hit a very empty .301. I find it kind of amazing that he was one and done on the HOF ballot even though he had 2,743 hits, 500+ doubles, and a .303 avg since writers weren't focusing much on OBP being only .344 back then.

This is the second discussion about Oliver after last week's thread about an Ohio politician trying to draw support for his HOF candidacy. Oliver was on the latest Expansion Era ballot but drew little support so I doubt he'll be on the 2013 ballot. I'm interested to see how much support Keith Hernandez and Dwight Evans draw on a ballot crowded with Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Tony Larussa as first time nominees
   15. tfbg9 Posted: November 24, 2012 at 11:39 AM (#4308653)
Shortly after a friend/drinking buddy turned me on to Bill James' Abstracts in the early 80's, I was talking to my brother in law, a Pirates fan, about how fascinating the books were. And I mentioned to my BIL that I had learned to see hidden value in a player, that for instance, Al Oliver was not as good as Gene Tenace.

He told me I was nuts, and that the stats guy was FOS.

Tenace was better. I was right.
   16. Mike Emeigh Posted: November 24, 2012 at 12:04 PM (#4308659)
I don't know this for a fact but I remember reading somewhere that Oliver got pinch hit for in the '85 ALCS & burnt some bridges by losing his cool on the bench.


That was probably something I wrote, based on an appearance by Oliver in front of SABR's Pittsburgh chapter in 1996 where I asked him about that specific incident. Oliver himself felt that his reputation kept him from getting any offers after that season.

Realistically though, when you have a 39-YO DH coming off a season where his OPS was .656 and who had more or less worn out his welcome with four teams in two years, what do you expect?

Oliver's in the same general range, I think, as Rusty Staub, or maybe Harold Baines - the sum of his career adds up to more than the individual parts and makes him look like a better fit for the HoF than he probably should be.

-- MWE
   17. Bruce Markusen Posted: November 24, 2012 at 12:14 PM (#4308663)
Something else interesting about Oliver and the '85 ALCS: he went 3-for-8 in that series, with three RBIs, and I believe a couple of game-winning, or at least game-changing hits. So that performance did little to help him when it came to the free agent market that winter.
   18. Super Creepy Derek Lowe (GGC) Posted: November 24, 2012 at 03:33 PM (#4308712)
Wasn't that the collusion offseason? I remember that '85 ALCS well. That era was the height of my ecumenical fandom. KC would switch to a lefty pitcher and Bobby Cox would unload all the righties of the bench. Then Quiz would come in and mow them down.
   19. Jose Is The Most Absurd Thing on the Site Posted: November 24, 2012 at 04:05 PM (#4308725)
I recall collision as being an 86/87 phenomenon. Raines, Parrish, Gedman, Dawson were all that year.
   20. The District Attorney Posted: November 24, 2012 at 07:11 PM (#4308803)
I remember that '85 ALCS well. That era was the height of my ecumenical fandom. KC would switch to a lefty pitcher and Bobby Cox would unload all the righties of the bench.
Yeah, and Bill James' take on that incident in his epic article about the '85 Royals was that Oliver was mad not so much on his own behalf, but because Oliver knew that Cox was falling into Dick Howser's "trap".

(I don't know whether James' interpretation of Oliver's state of mind was speculation, or based on speaking to sources. I also don't know, for that matter, whether Bill's implication that Cox was screwing up is correct. Seems to me that there really is no good move for the manager with the platoon hitter in that R-L-R situation.)
   21. Mike Emeigh Posted: November 24, 2012 at 08:58 PM (#4308837)
I don't know whether James' interpretation of Oliver's state of mind was speculation, or based on speaking to sources.


Probably the former. At that time James was still pretty much an outsider.

As I recall, Oliver's comment in 1996 was that he was upset about being taken out because he felt he could hit Charlie Leibrandt. That's the normal reaction of any guy who's being lifted for a pinch-hitter in order to get the platoon advantage. But Oliver should not have been surprised or upset about being lifted at that stage; that was more or less routine for Cox, and Cliff Johnson was also having a pretty good series. The real problem, to be honest about it, is that Toronto's offense was driven to a large extent by their productive platoon combinations, which made it very susceptible to precisely what happened.

-- MWE
   22. bjhanke Posted: November 25, 2012 at 12:37 AM (#4309029)
One thing that people miss about Sisler is that he was one of the first players to figure out what Babe Ruth was doing. In 1920, his 19 homers were actually second in the league to Ruth's 50+, although the ballpark in question - Sportsman's Park - did favor right field power. If he had not had the devastating injury in late 1922, he might have a stat shape very much like Vlad Guerrero, instead of looking like a strict singles hitter. The other thing worth mentioning is that, when he was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1939, he really WAS the best 1B of the 20th century whose career was over (Gehrig retired in 1939). If you go to Bill James' New Historical Abstract, Sisler is listed as #24 among 1B, but if you work back up the line, you find that the only guys who are ranked higher and who played earlier than George were Anson, Brouthers and Connor, all 19th century guys. And, since Bill's methods do NOT see Sisler as a glove god, I'm pretty sure he doesn't have him overrated.... - Brock Hanke

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