Al Oliver

Al OliverAccording to those who saw him play on a regular basis, no one hit the ball as hard on a consistent basis as did Al Oliver. He was a line-drive hitting machine, winning a batting title in 1982 and batting over .300 for his 18-year career.

Oliver started his career as a heralded center fielder with then Pittsburgh Pirates, for whom he starred for a decade, playing with Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. Oliver finished second to Ted Sizemore in the 1969 National League Rookie of the Year voting, launching a career that included many honors. He was an All-Star seven times, earning nods with three different teams: the Bucs, Texas Rangers, and Montreal Expos.

The Pirates traded him as part of a blockbuster four-team deal after the 1977 season, a transaction which netted Pittsburgh future Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven. In Texas, Oliver was the star of the team, hitting .300 in each of his four season, including his first 200-hit campaign in 1980. He was then traded to the Expos on the eve of the ’82 season for Larry PArrish and Dave Hostetler. Playing north of the border, Oliver joined a talented team that included Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, and Tim Raines. Despite the talent on the club, for several reasons (including drug use by key players) the Expos never advanced to the post-season in the Oliver era.

In his first season in Montreal, Oliver had a great year at the plate at the age of 35: batting .331, collecting 204 hits, 43 doubles, 109 RBI, and 317 total bases. All were league leading totals, and the veteran finished third in NL MVP voting as a result.

At the age of 36 it appeared that Oliver would probably reach the 3,000-hit mark, as he had more than 2,500 and was getting about 180 per year. But in 1984 he suffered an injury that limited him to 119 games and he also started a trek that took him to four teams in two years. By now a poor defensive first baseman he was asked to DH, something he did well for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1985. His final plate appearance came against Kansas City’s Bret Saberhagen in the third inning of Game seven of the ’85 ALCS when he flew out. Two innings later he was removed for a pinch-hitter as the Blue Jays lost the crucial game and Oliver’s career ended.

Oliver retired with 2,743 hits, 529 doubles, 219 home runs, and more than 1,300 RBI. He had a career batting mark over .300 for three different franchises, and hit .296 for the Pirates in 10 seasons.

Hitting streak in 1981

Even though the ’81 season was fractured by the players’ strike, Oliver didn’t let that stop him at home in Arlington. that year he hit safely in every game played in the Rangers’ home games from May 3 to September 4, a stretch of 30 games in all. He hit a blistering .426 with 52 hits in the 30 games.