First Pitch: Why Doesn’t Al Oliver Get the Hall of Fame Respect of Other Great Players?

The National Baseball Hall of Fame announced the ten finalists being considered for the Hall of Fame on the Modern Baseball Era Ballot, which considers players who made their most significant contributions between 1970 and 1987. Dave Parker was rightfully among those names on the list, but another longtime member of the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t get one of those spots.

Al Oliver posted this tweet yesterday after finding out the news:

Here’s a look at his resume for the Hall of Fame.

He was a .303 career hitter over 18 seasons in the majors. He led the league with a .331 average in 1982.

Oliver was a seven-time All-Star and he received MVP votes in ten different seasons.

He drove in 1,326 runs, including an RBI title in 1982.

He had 2,743 hits, which still ranks 58th all-time.

He hit 529 doubles, which ranks 43rd all-time.

He had 4,083 total bases.

He went to the postseason six times and helped the Pirates to the 1971 World Series.

Oliver won three Silver Slugger awards.

Those things combined equal an impressive resume between awards and stats. Yet he had one year on the Hall of Fame ballot, receiving 4.3% of the votes, which was just shy of the 5% minimum to stay on the ballot.

What people look at now is the WAR. Oliver has a 43.7 WAR career, which is a nice total, but it would rank him just above Andrew McCutchen (43.6) for 22nd among active players. Among all players, he’s ranked 422nd all-time. That’s quite a way off from some of the big name players, but he’s still ranked ahead of a handful of guys who are already in the Hall of Fame.

My title wasn’t just about him getting elected to the Hall of Fame. I think he has a borderline resume and there are a lot of players who should go in before he does. In 2020, Derek Jeter will probably get 100% of the votes. Another New York shortstop named Bill Dahlen put up 3.0 more WAR than Jeter and he hasn’t played a game in 108 years, yet he’s not in the Hall of Fame. Basically, the Hall isn’t perfect and there are bigger travesties than Oliver not being inducted yet.

The title is just about getting the respect of the Hall, and Oliver wasn’t among the ten players getting considered this year. Dale Murphy has 46.5 career WAR. Steve Garvey is at 38.1. Even Dave Parker is at 40.1. Don Mattingly is at 42.4. They’re all basically in the same class of player as Oliver, except they all seemed they have a peak where they drew a lot of attention, while Oliver was more of a steady player. All four of those players have an MVP award as well, and that might be the real difference here.

The Hall of Fame/voters didn’t give Oliver the respect he deserves, not the first time he was on the ballot and not now. The Pittsburgh Pirates will though I’m sure. He’s among the top 20 in numerous offensive categories in team history. The team has created a Hall of Fame of their own (finally) starting next year and you can bet Al Oliver will be one of the early inductees into their Hall. Might not happen the first year, but he won’t have to wait as long as he does for Cooperstown to call.




By John Dreker

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date, including one with a unique family connection. Plus we have a noteworthy transaction.

On this date in 1976 the Pirates traded catcher Manny Sanguillen and $100,000 to the Oakland A’s in exchange for Chuck Tanner. Sanguillen lasted just one season in Oakland before returning to the Pirates for the final three seasons of his career. Tanner lasted nine seasons in Pittsburgh, going 711-685, while leading the Pirates to their fifth World Series title in 1979. The two teams actually completed another transaction that day, with the Pirates selling infielder Tommy Helms to the A’s. Before Helms could play for the A’s, he was traded back to the Pirates four months later.

Harry Gumbert, pitcher for the 1949-50 Pirates. He came to Pittsburgh at the end of his 15-year career and posted a 5.83 ERA in 29.1 innings over 17 relief appearances. He won 143 games in his career, topping out at 18 during the 1939 season. The Pirates had a great-nephew/great-uncle relationship recently with Al Luplow and Jordan Luplow, but Gumbert has them beat. His great-uncles Ad and Billy Gumbert both pitched for the Pirates back in the 1890’s.

Ralph Birkofer, pitcher for the 1933-36 Pirates. He split his time in Pittsburgh fairly evenly between starting (62 starts) and relieving (59 appearances). Birkofer had a 34-26, 4.04 record in 514.1 innings for the Pirates. His only other big league experience was 29.2 innings for the 1938 Brooklyn Dodgers.

Jack Wisner, pitcher for the 1919-20 Pirates. He had a strong late season debut in the majors with the Pirates at 19 years old, posting an 0.96 ERA in 18.2 innings. Wisner had a bigger role in 1920, making two starts and 15 relief appearances, with a 3.43 ERA in 44.2 innings. His only other big league experience was 68.1 innings for the 1925-26 New York Giants.

Tom McNamara, pinch-hitter for the 1922 Pirates. His only big league game consisted of one pinch-hit at-bat. He batted for starter Hal Carlson in the fifth inning and grounded out to second base.

Tommy Sheehan, third baseman for the 1906-07 Pirates. In two seasons, he batted .255 with one homer and 59 RBIs in 170 games. Prior to joining the Pirates, his only other big league game came six years earlier for the New York Giants. After being sold to Brooklyn, he played 146 games in 1908, then spent the next four seasons playing in his home state of California.

John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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