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Twins great Tony Oliva ‘not bitter’ after falling one vote short of Cooperstown

By Mike Berardino St. Paul Pioneer Press SAN DIEGO -- After falling one excruciating vote shy of election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Twins great Tony Oliva insisted he wasn't angry. Disappointed? Certainly. "Look, I'm not bitter about...

By Mike Berardino

St. Paul Pioneer Press

 

SAN DIEGO - After falling one excruciating vote shy of election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Twins great Tony Oliva insisted he wasn’t angry.

Disappointed? Certainly.

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“Look, I’m not bitter about anything,” Oliva, 76, said on a conference call with Twin Cities reporters Monday afternoon. “This is the way the people feel. You have to look in your heart. If this is the way you’re feeling, this is the way you do it. If you feel comfortable about what you did, this is what counts.”

The hall’s Golden Era Committee failed to elect any of 10 finalists. Dick Allen, the former Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies slugger, also finished with 11 votes, one shy of the 75 percent needed for induction.

Now a special assistant in the Twins’ front office, Oliva played outfield for the team for 15 seasons (1962-76), compiling 1,917 hits and a .304 career batting average.

Former Twins left-hander Jim Kaat, also 76, remained stuck on 10 votes, two shy of induction. Kaat also spent 15 years in the Washington Senators/Twins organization (1959-73) at the big-league level, winning 190 games during his time with the franchise.

“Nothing surprises me anymore,” Oliva said. “I think Jim Kaat should have been in the hall of fame a long time ago. Any time you win (283) games, you should be in the hall of fame. The same thing happened to Bert Blyleven. He should have gone in the hall of fame on the first or second ballot. It took him 15 ballots.”

Concluding the thought, Oliva added: “The hall of fame is not fair. For some people, it’s beautiful. For other people, it’s not fair.”

Twins bullpen coach Eddie Guardado, who was on hand for the announcement at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, was saddened by the near-miss for his fellow Twins franchise hall of famer.

“One vote - there’s got to be one vote,” Guardado said. “I was just thinking: one vote. Anybody with one vote. Tony has been up on that (ballot) for awhile now. I agree (with the process), but it still hurts.”

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Twins great Rod Carew, Oliva’s former Twins teammate, was part of the 16-member voting committee and made his support of Oliva public. Carew was scheduled to attend Monday’s news conference but had to return to his home in southern California earlier than expected.

Oliva said he hadn’t spoken with Carew since the announcement but was sure his longtime friend felt as bad about the news as anyone.

“I bet he’s feeling very, very disappointed,” Oliva said. “I know he tried his best. He did all he could do. I don’t want him to feel bad about it. The big thing is he’s doing good, I’m doing good, my family is doing good, my friends are doing good. I know this is disappointing, but it could be a lot worse.”

Oliva said he might have felt better if the committee had elected at least once new hall of famer. He wasn’t the only one.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t get someone elected, but I can tell you we jumped through all the hoops,” said hall of fame executive Pat Gillick, who was on the committee. “These were 10 terrific candidates. It was not an easy process. It was a thorough process. It was a healthy process. It was a candid process. That’s all I can tell you.”

Aside from the final vote total, the process remains confidential, with committee members voting in secret and only one vote conducted.

“When it used to be numerous votes, there was always the speculation somebody was buying votes off somebody else,” Gillick said. “In this situation, I can tell you it’s completely confidential. We were seated around the table, and I couldn’t tell you the fellow on my right or left who they voted for, and they don’t know who I voted for.”

Gillick had no opinion on whether each individual’s vote should be made public.

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“I can say everybody got a fair hearing and everybody got on the table and everybody was very candid, but most of the comments were very, very positive about this group,” Gillick said. “This happens. I did vote. I can’t divulge my vote, but I thought there were some people that deserved to be in the hall of fame. But again, you have to reach that 75 percent criteria.”

The Golden Era Committee isn’t scheduled to meet again for another three years, but hall chair Janes Forbes Clark left open the possibility that the veterans committee process will be reexamined once again.

“I’ve been waiting over 30 years, but three years is a long time,” Oliva said. “I believe they should do for us (veterans) the same way they do for the (recently retired) players: They do it every year. All the ballplayers that are on the committee, all the ballplayers that are eligible for the hall of fame, they’re old.

“We’re between 75 and 90 years old. Three years is a long time. At least you have hope to be there next year.”

 

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with the Forum News Service

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