Forty-five seems like a long time to hope for anything, but you know what took even longer for Tony Oliva? The last 10 minutes before her phone finally rang.
“It was 10 loooooong minutes, ”Oliva said with a laugh.
But at 4:40 p.m. his phone rang. It was Jane Forbes Clark, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, ready to invite her to Cooperstown, NY, next July to be inducted into immortality. After 23 failed appearances on a ballot, Tony Oliva, one of the greatest hitters in Twins history, is a Hall of Famer.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for 45 years. It’s awesome, ”the 83-year-old said in the midst of a house full of cheering friends, neighbors and family. “It’s something special. I never dreamed that something like this would happen to me. “
In fact, much of the state of Minnesota has dreamed of it, given Oliva’s stellar but truncated baseball career. He is a three-time batting champion and the heart of a league champion and two division winners with the Twins, but said he has pretty much given up hope of one day being elected to the Temple of Fame.
“All day long I’ve been like, ‘If that call doesn’t come, it’s over, Tony.’ But do you know something? I never felt bad about myself, ”said Oliva. “I look around the room, I see my family here, my friends here, I’m happy. “
Yet even the most optimistic Twins fan probably never imagined a scenario like Sunday when Oliva, who received 12 votes from a panel of 16 Hall of Fame members, executives, historians and journalists gathered in Orlando, was elected on the same day as former teammate Jim Kaat (12 votes) and Cuban compatriot Minnie Minoso (14). Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges also received 12 votes, making the four-member squad the largest Hall of Famers class ever to be chosen by the Golden Days Era committee at one time.
That 1970 Twins team that won AL West by nine games? It turns out that list included five Hall of Fame members: Oliva, Kaat, Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew – who was supposed to sit on Sunday’s committee, but had to cancel due to the increase in COVID numbers – and Bert Blyleven, who replaced Carew on the panel.
“Have both Tony and Kitty [Kaat] entering the Hall of Fame made it one of the happiest days of my life, ”said Carew from California. They took care of me when I was a kid in 1967. Tony, Kitty and Harmon were the guys I learned to be a big leaguer with. Tony was my big brother. “
Oliva will be inducted on July 24, 2022 in Cooperstown, NY, along with Kaat, Minoso, Hodges and all of the more recent players elected by the Baseball Writers of America, whose votes will be announced in January. Additionally, Buck O’Neil, longtime Kansas City Monarchs player and manager, and Bud Fowler – whose 1884 minor-league season with Stillwater, Minn., Made him the first black professional baseball player – were elected by an Early Baseball committee which also included Blyleven. .
“I would love to go see all the great players out there. They are my friends, ”said Oliva. ” I’ve been there many times. I went there when Rod came in, I went when Paul Molitor came in. Kirby [Puckett], too much. “
Oliva was a .304 lifetime hitter in 15 seasons with the Twins, his only major league team. He won the batting championships in each of his first two seasons, 1964 and 1965, and again in 1971. He was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1964 and a finalist in the AL MVP vote in 1965, having won helped the Twins reach their first World Series in Minnesota, and also in 1970. He had 1,917 hits, including 597 for extra goals.
“I always thought I was a better hitter than the pitcher [was a pitcher] Said Oliva. No matter who was throwing, I thought I could hit him. ”
But his career was cut short by knee injuries that began in 1971 and ultimately limited him to serving as designated hitter for the last four seasons of his career, which ended in 1976.
He never reached 50% of the vote on the BBWAA ballot, but grew closer and closer to various veterans committees over the years. Yet he received bad news 23 times in 45 years until Sunday. Coincidentally, the longest slump in Oliva’s career was a 0-for-23 skid in June 1967.
Oliva finished it with a brace, Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg. And Oliva put all of those Hall of Fame disappointments behind him on Sunday.
“I’ve never had the chance for my family to see me play here in the United States… My mom, my dad, my brothers, some sisters, they’ve never seen me play,” mused Oliva, who also coached under Tom Kelly for the Twins’ teams for the 1987 and 1991 world championships. “I wish they had this opportunity to be here today, but they are in heaven right now. They would have been very proud if a little boy from the Cuban countryside was in the Hall of Fame today. “
Fowler: from Minnesota
Fowler, who was born John Jackson Jr., was the first recognized black professional baseball player at the age of 20 in 1878. In 1884, Fowler became the black player in organized baseball when he played for Stillwater in the Northwestern League. Minneapolis and St. Paul also had teams in the 14-team league.
Fowler was 7-8 as a pitcher and hit .302 in 48 games for Stillwater, who was 21-46. In 1895, Fowler helped form the Page Fence Giants, one of the first successful Black Barnstorming teams. Early in the 1895 season, the Giants played a four-game exhibition series in Minneapolis against the Minneapolis Millers. Fowler was the player-manager of the team.
The ballots revealed
Here are the results of the vote, with 12 (75 percent) of the 16 votes needed for the election.
Golden Days Era Ballot: Minnie Minoso (14 votes, 87.5%); Gil Hodges (12 votes, 75%); Jim Kaat (12 votes, 75%); Tony Oliva (12 votes, 75%); Dick Allen (11 votes, 68.8%); Ken Boyer, Roger Maris, Danny Murtaugh, Billy Pierce and Maury Wills each three or less.
First ballot of the baseball era: Buck O’Neil (13 votes, 81.3%); Bud Fowler (12 votes, 75%); Vic Harris (10 votes, 62.5%); John Donaldson (8 votes, 50%); Allie Reynolds (6 votes, 37.4%); Lefty O’Doul (5 votes, 31.3%); George Scales (4 votes, 25%); Bill Dahlen, Grant Johnson and Dick Redding each three or less.