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 Minnesota Twins > Twins Greats > Tony Oliva
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Tony Oliva
Tony Oliva

Full Name: Antonio Oliva Lopez Hernandes Javique
Position: Outfielder
Number: 6
Height: 6-2   
Weight: 190
Bats: Left   
Throws: Right
Born: July 20, 1938 in Pinar del Rio, Cuba
Resides: Bloomington, MN
How Obtained: Signed as a free agent, July 24, 1961

Tony Oliva claimed that the two toughest pitchers he ever faced were Sam McDowell and Nolan Ryan. "They were wild; sometimes they'd throw behind you. You had to buy extra life insurance when you faced them."

Antonio Oliva, or "Tony-O" to those who followed his 24-year career as a Twins' player and coach, was a man who seemed to excel in all aspects of the game. He could hit for power and average, run, field and throw, and his versatility made him one of the most feared hitters of his day.

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Antonio Oliva Lopez Hernandes Javique (born July 20, 1938) in Pinar del Río, Cuba, is better known as Tony Oliva. In the late 1990's he had it legally changed to Tony Pedro Oliva since that was the name everyone was using. When Tony first came to the United States to try out for the Twins they were going to release him partially because they felt he was too old at 21 years. One of Tony's friends told the team that the man they knew as "Tony" was in fact "Pedro", Tony's younger brother who was 18. His friend said that "Pedro" had used "Tony's" passport to get into the U.S.

The story hit the papers shortly after explaining, incorrectly, that Tony was actually the 18 year old Pedro and the name has stuck for over 40 years. Different sources will tell you he was born in 1940 or 1941, but Tony was actually born in 1938. Tony's younger brother Pedro made his first trip to the U.S. in the summer of 2002.
The “real” Tony Oliva is a former Major League Baseball right fielder who played his entire career in the American League for the Minnesota Twins between 1962 and 1976.

Tony batted .342 in three minor league seasons, winning one batting title and missing another by .0001 of a point. He was signed by Minnesota as a non-amateur free agent in 1961 and made his debut in 1962. He hit a combined .438 (7-for-16) in two seasons.

In 1964 he led the league in batting average (.323), hits (217), runs (109), total bases (374), doubles (43), extra-base hits (84), and multi-hit games (71). He was selected as the Rookie of the Year and probably should have won the MVP award, but third baseman Brooks Robinson got the honors with a career year both at the plate and on the field. He was also selected to play in his first of eight All-Star games (1947-71). Tony Oliva joined Joe DiMaggio as the only player to be named to the All-Star Game in their first six seasons. Later, he extended that string to eight years, setting a MLB record.

In 1965 Tony won his second straight batting title with a .321 BA. He is the only player to win batting titles in his first two seasons and was the winner of three in his 15-year career, which still stands as the club's longevity mark. Behind him, only two hitters reached the .300 mark: Carl Yastrzemski (.312) and Vic Davalillo (.301). Tony-O added 16 home runs, 98 runs batted in, 107 runs, and led the league in hits (185). The next year, he was leading the league with .328 at the end of July, but a 3-for-30 slump in the middle of August cost him a chance at his third straight batting title. He finished with .309 and was second to Frank Robinson (.316).

The rest of the decade Tony was hampered by knee, leg, and shoulder injuries. He missed 34 games in 1968, rebounding the next two years with .309, 24 homers, 101 RBI, and .325, 23, 107, respectively. He missed all but ten games of the 1972 season, which required season-ending surgery. In 1973, when the American League adopted the designated hitter, Tony hit the first home run ever by a DH in a regular season game on April 6 against the Oakland A's.  Due to the newly adopted position, a banged up Tony-O was able to extend his career swinging the bat until 1976.

In his 15-season career, Tony Oliva batted .304 with 220 homeruns, 947 RBI, 870 runs, 1917 hits, 329 doubles, 48 triples, and 86 stolen bases in 1676 games. He was a 5-time Top 10 MVP and a 7-time Top 3 in batting average. He led the league in hits 5 times and in doubles 4 times. He received the Gold Glove Award in 1966 and led the league in slugging percentage in 1971.

After retiring, he served as a batting coach for the Twins. He now works as a hitting instructor in the Twins' minor league system and scouts for the club. He had his number 6 retired on July 14, 1991.

It is debated by many that Tony Oliva deserves induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame because of his great offensive numbers in years that were heavily dominated throughout the league by great pitching, which make his consecutive batting titles even more impressive. If not for knee problems which cut his career short, he would have been a certain choice for the Hall of Fame.  Tony is definitely Hall of Fame material in the eyes of Minnesota Twins fans and is certainly a Minnesota “great.”

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