Dishonoring Excellence—why isn’t Pirate great Al Oliver in the MLB Hall of Fame? (June 5)

by Aubrey Bruce, For New Pittsburgh Courier

The Pittsburgh Pirates held their “Bringing It Home” Heritage Day breakfast on June 1 at the PNC Park Hyundai Club. The event was sponsored by the Pirates and organized by Joel Gray, the community outreach coordinator for the team. The festivities were hosted by Andrew Stockey of WTAE-TV (4). Stockey was also the moderator of the discussion that followed the breakfast. Pirates President Frank Coonelly delivered remarks to the participants in his usual classy style, making everyone feel comfortable and welcome. Guest speakers on the panel were: Assistant General Manager Kevan Graves, Former Pirate great Al “Scoops” Oliver, Pirates Senior Vice President of Revenue Brian Colbert, Director of Pro Scouting Steve Williams, and first base coach Kimera Bartee. It was an event held before Heritage Day was held, featuring the Pirates in the Pittsburgh Crawfords uniforms.

A significant part of the discussion was based on informing the African American youth that were in attendance of the many job opportunities throughout MLB that could be available aside from playing the game itself.

During the discussion Ronald B. Saunders asked Oliver about his currently not residing in the MLB Hall of Fame, and why he thought that might be. Oliver replied: “Although I had the stats I couldn’t figure out why I was not in the MLB Hall of Fame, either.”

Saunders and I spoke after the event and I felt his passion about the subject and we exchanged phone numbers. We spoke earlier in the week. I am smiling now but I was tickled to death not knowing that I was going to be talking to Al Oliver’s version of “rain man” when it came to having someone to statistically back up the claim that Oliver should be comfortably sitting the “great hall.”

Saunders told me: “It is a grave injustice that Al Oliver is not in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Let’s just take a sneak preview of Scoop’s stats which should get him to Cooperstown: 11 seasons out of 18 in which he hits over .300, 1969 All-Rookie Team, 1971 World Champion, 1982 National League Batting Champion, 1982 National League RBI king, 23-game hitting streak, 21-game hitting streak, 5 division champs, 7 All-Star games. Harold Baines was only in 6 All-Star games, by the way, and he’s in the Hall. Also for Oliver, he was the first player to hit .300, collect 200 hits and drive in 100 RBI in both leagues, lifetime average of .303, 2,743 career hits, and 1,326 RBI, finished 34th on all-time hit list and 17th all-time doubles, 3 Silver Slugger Awards, set an American League record with 21 total bases against the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium in doubleheader by hitting four home runs, a double and a triple while playing with the Texas Rangers.”

It seemed like Ron was either a walking almanac, had great internet service or both, but all that he said was totally true. Reverend Al Oliver was the epitome of a hardworking professional athlete on the field, and off the field was a tireless fire- and brimstone-filled voice for economic and social justice, for all African Americans. Saunders went on to say: “Al Oliver was forced out of the game by collusion or he would have had 3,000 hits.”

I have always been suspicious about Al Oliver’s blatant and unexplained absence from the MLB HOF but at this point and time I have no irrefutable evidence as to who may have colluded and what their reasons were to bar Oliver from the “Hall.”

We hope that during some future Black Heritage or Black History Month festivities that aside from spinning yarns about Negro League greats Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, we will speak in hallowed tones about the image of Al Oliver hanging in Cooperstown.

 

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