Tony Oliva visits the Baseball Hall of Fame
For Tony Oliva, to walk into the Hall of Fame as one of its newly elected brought on emotions of admiration and disbelief.
“Can you believe it? I’m going to have a plaque here,” Oliva said.
On Wednesday, Oliva traveled to Cooperstown, NY, for his orientation visit, during which he toured the museum, signed the plaque endorsement where his Hall of Fame plaque will eventually hang, and stood interviewed by the media in the plaque gallery.
Oliva, who will be inducted July 24 along with the rest of the seven-member class of 2022, was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Golden Days Era committee in December.
“When I got the phone call from [Hall of Fame chairman of the board Jane Forbes Clark], I didn’t know what to say,” Oliva said. ” I could not believe it. …It was a big surprise for me.
The eight-time All-Star and native of Pínar del Río, Cuba, won three batting titles and the 1964 Rookie of the Year award during his 15-year big league career, which he entirely spent with the Minnesota Twins.
Joining Oliva on his visit were his wife, Gordette, and daughter, Anita.
Their visit began at the beginning of the Museum’s timeline, progressing from the origins of baseball to the present day. Along the way, Oliva brought back countless memories throughout her career.
After seeing Ray Dandridge’s Mexico City Diablos Rojos jersey in a 1964 Old Timers game, which was on display in the Ideals and injustices exhibition, Oliva recalled his days playing in the Mexican Winter League. While his family had been unable to travel to the United States from Cuba, he was fortunate enough to find them in Mexico.
Oliva’s parents eventually made it to Minnesota, where they faced the winter weather for the first time, Oliva recalls.
“When he came to Minnesota, [my father] thought the ground in the United States was white,” Oliva said.
Later in the timeline, Oliva stopped when he spotted Sandy Koufax’s 1965 Player of the Year award.
“He’s the guy right there,” Oliva said.
In the All new ball game exhibition, Erik Strohl, the Hall’s vice president of collections and exhibitions, pointed to George Brett’s bat from the famous “Pine Tar Game.”
“You wanna know something? This guy could hit with any type of bat,” Oliva said of Brett.
In the same exhibit, Strohl presented a video that brought back memories of Oliva’s practice days with the Twins: Kirby Puckett’s home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Oliva and the Twins won the Fall Classic that year, in his final year as Minnesota batting coach.
“Well see you tomorrow!” Oliva recited just before the clip played, recalling the famous Jack Buck call from the Puckett drama circuit.
On the third floor of the Museum, Oliva spotted a photo of three all-time greats in the Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream exposure.
“It’s the big three right there,” Oliva said, pointing to an image of Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays at the 1961 All-Star Game.
The tour then continued to the Hall of Fame Collections Storage, where Oliva handled artifacts used by other Hall of Famers as well as former teammates and opponents.
When handed the Honus Wagner bat, Oliva guessed its weight.
“Is it about 45 ounces?” He asked.
It was right on the nose, Strohl said.
Oliva also tried one of former teammate Rod Carew’s bats for size.
“That guy, he knew what he was doing,” Oliva said, holding up the bat Carew used to record his 2,000th hit in 1978.
Hall of Famer Al Kaline was one of Oliva’s idols, so it was a special moment for him when he got a close look at the Detroit legend’s bat in the 1961 All-Star Game.
“In the American League, Al Kaline was my man,” said Oliva, who, like Kaline, played on the right field for the only team his entire career. “I wanted to play like him.
Oliva’s tour ended at the Plaque Gallery, where he stopped to pose with some of his new Hall of Fame teammates, including Kaline and Twins legend Harmon Killebrew.
“To me, this gentleman here was too nice to be a baseball player,” Oliva said, pointing to Killebrew’s plaque.
Oliva then put on his Hall of Fame cap and jersey, and he signed where his plaque will soon hang to make it official.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time – for 45 years,” Oliva said. “It’s never too late.”