March 19, 2009

Twins Player Profile: Tony Oliva

Pedro Oliva was born on July 20, 1938 in Cuba's Pinar del Rio Province. After spending his teenage years in Cuba, his family pushed him to go to America and fulfill his dream of playing in the Major Leagues. Using his brother Antonio's passport, Oliva signed with the Twins on July 24, 1961, four days after his 23rd birthday. He's been known as Tony Oliva (or Tony-O) ever since.

After spending nearly all of two years in the minor leagues, Oliva finally became a mainstay with the Twins in 1964. That year, Oliva hit .323/.359/.557 with 84 extra-base hits including (what would end up being) career bests in doubles (43), triples (9) and home runs (32). Those numbers earned him both an All-Star bid and Rookie-of-the-Year honors.

For the next 8 years from 1964-1971, Oliva posted MVP-like numbers for the Twins. He was an All-Star in all 8 of those seasons hitting a combined .312 with 177 home runs and 638 RBI. Oliva was the runner-up of the MVP award two times, losing once to teammate Zoilo Versalles in 1965 and again in 1970 to Boog Powell of the Orioles. He might have won in 1970, but teammate Harmon Killebrew hit 41 round-trippers and drove in 113 RBI which earned him third place in the MVP voting, taking away votes from Oliva.

Oliva's career really took a drastic hit during the 1971 season after injuring his right knee and undergoing surgery in July to remove cartilage. The injury knocked Oliva out for almost all of the 1972 season and upon return, he wasn't really able to regain either his hitting approach or his defensive wizardry which earned him a gold glove in the 1966 season. The injury forced the team to convert him to full-time Designated Hitter in 1973 (the position's official inaugural season). Oliva hit a home run off of Catfish Hunter on April 6, 1973 which was the first home run hit by a DH in the history of baseball.

Retiring in 1976 at the age of 38, Oliva finished his career with a .304/.353/.476 hitting line. He also finished with 220 home runs and 947 RBI which made him an all-time great in Twins history. He also won three batting championships, which is second in club history behind Rod Carew's six batting championships.

Oliva was apart of the 1965 Twins roster which made the first World Series appearance in club's history. He also helped the Twins reach multiple playoff appearances and American League Championship Series.

After his retirement, Oliva stayed with the Twins organization in multiple ways which include being the Twins' first base coach and minor league hitting instructor. But most importantly, Oliva was the Twins' hitting coach from 1986-1991, helping coach two World Series winning lineups in both 1987 and 1991. During the 1991 season, the Twins retired Oliva's #6 jersey. In 2000, Oliva was inducted into the first class of the Twins Hall-of-Fame. Oliva is one of five Twins players to have a banner of themselves hung at the Metrodome. The sixth banner belongs to Jackie Robinson. Despite not being a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, he is widely known around baseball as being one of the best natural hitters to have ever played this game.

Today, Oliva is still active within the Twins organization. He is currently part of the Twins' Spanish radio broadcast as the color analyst. Oliva still resides in Bloomington, Minnesota and spends time with his grandchildren, by playing Nintendo Wii.

This can also be read at