Does Tony Oliva belong in the Hall of Fame? His best argument for a plaque in Cooperstown are his three batting titles, his career .304 batting average, the five times he paced the AL in hits, and his two runner-up finishes in MVP voting. Unfortunately, writers never gave him more than 47% support on the their ballot. Apparently his abbreviated career (he only had 11 seasons where he played 100 games or more) have hurt his chances. But compared to a later Twins’ outfielder, Kirby Puckett, Oliva is more than qualified.
- Puckett won one batting title, Oliva won three.
- Oliva led his league in hits five times, Puckett did it four times.
- Tony led the AL in doubles four times, while Puckett never did.
- Oliva’s career .304 average is lower than Puckett’s, who hit .318. But Oliva did that in a league where the average was .258, while Kirby did it in a league that batted .266. That evens it out pretty much.
- More importantly, Oliva’s .476 SLG is far more impressive than Puckett’s .477, which came in a league where the norm was .408. Oliva did his in the AL when the average SLG was only .387.
- Speaking of that, Oliva led the AL in slugging once, while Kirby never did. Oliva ranked in the top ten in SLG seven times, while Puckett did only three times.
- Both players spent their entire careers with Minnesota, but Puckett played a key role on two World Series teams. He also hit a famous walkoff home run in Game Six of the 1991 World Series. Oliva played in one World Series and two playoff series, and while he appeared in 11 fewer postseason games than Puckett, he had almost as many extra-base hits (8 to 10), and a higher SLG and OPS. Still, advantage Kirby.
- Oliva won one Gold Glove for his play in right field but probably could have won a few more if it weren’t for being in the same league as legend Al Kaline. Puckett won six Gold Gloves in center field. Tony O played DH the last four seasons of his career. We’ll give Puckett the nod on defense.
- Puckett had a career OPS+ (on-base percentage plus slugging adjusted for league and ballpark) of 124, a good figure. But Oliva’s was 131.
- While Oliva was hampered with injuries throughout his career, he still managed 15 seasons and 6,880 plate appearances. Puckett retired early because of an eye injury. He played 12 seasons and had 7,831 plate appearances, or roughly two more full seasons of playing time than Oliva. That makes a difference, but considering Oliva’s hitting stats are better when compared to his era, it’s not enough to make Puckett a better hitter than Tony.
Ultimately we think if Kirby Puckett was good enough to be elected to the Hall of Fame based on 12 seasons, Oliva was also worthy based on his 11 full seasons in the lineup.