SAN DIEGO – One more vote, and Tony Oliva would have been on a plane, heading west to warmer weather at the annual baseball winter meetings and a news conference about his induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Instead Oliva watched from his home in Bloomington on Monday when Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the Hall of Fame’s board of directors, announced that no one on the 10-person ballot received the 12 votes required for election into the Hall of Fame by the 16-member Golden Era committee.
Then Clark added the jaw-dropping details.
“The vote totals are as follows,” she began. “Dick Allen and Tony Oliva, 11 votes … ”
Many in the audience — many of them media members — groaned at the close call.
New Twins bullpen coach Eddie Guardado, in town for the day, was standing in the back of the room when the announcement was made.
“Oh my,” Guardado said. “One vote.”
Oliva has been waiting for his call to the Hall since 1981, and now will have to wait three more years, when the Golden Era committee votes again.
“I don’t get too high and I don’t get too low,” said Oliva, 76. “This thing happens to me many, many times. But this time was more close.
“I feel a little bit disappointed that they did not get anybody [voted in]. If they get somebody in at least I feel better, because I think someone deserves to be in.”
In addition to Oliva, former Twin Jim Kaat was third with 10 votes received. Kaat received 10 votes three years ago and finished second to Ron Santo. Oliva received eight votes that year. That he made such a surge among the committee is promising, but he still fell just short.
“A disappointing day for sure,” Twins President Dave St. Peter said. “Based on conversations with Golden Era committee member Rod Carew, we had high hopes for both Tony and Jim. It’s incredibly frustrating to come up one to two votes short. That said, the Twins organization respects the Hall of Fame voting process and will continue to do whatever we can support Tony and Jim’s candidacy in 2017.”
That left the committee to explain how the process failed to yield a new member of the Hall of Fame.
The members of the committee are: Hall of Famers Carew, Jim Bunning, Pat Gillick, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; former major league executives Dave Dombrowski, Jim Frey, David Glass and Roland Hemond; and veteran media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby. The committee did not announce results of each member’s ballot.
“There was a lot of us in there. It was not an easy process [but] a thorough process, a healthy process and candid process,” Gillick said. “That’s all I can tell you. I’m disappointed we didn’t get someone elected, but I can tell you we jumped through all the hoops.”
Oliva took the high road during most of his teleconference, but there were times when the wear of his 30-plus-year wait was evident.
“There’s 16 people who have to vote,” he said. “I know it’s not 16 baseball players who vote. Baseball players know exactly what you have to do to maintain this level and be able to produce. [And] three years, I think three years is a long time for vote somebody in for the Hall of Fame.”
Oliva, 76, batted .304 with 220 home runs during a 15-year career. That included an impressive eight-season run during which he batted .313 with a .360 on-base percentage and .507 slugging percentage. He made the All-Star team in each of those years.
But Oliva was unable to sustain that production past age 32. Injuries played a factor in his body of work not being enough to convince 12 members of the committee.
“Well, each player was discussed an intense time,” Jenkins said. “I think the number one thing is we brought up each player. We brought up his stats, playing time, teams he played for, and the individual personal accounts. So I think each individual had that opportunity to understand, and everybody on the council had an opportunity to understand each guy’s individual performance, and who he was and where he played.”
So far, the case for Oliva hasn’t been strong enough. But he’s never gotten as close as he did Monday. The only way he can get into the Hall of Fame is through the veterans committee, which meets every three years.
“The Hall of Fame is not fair,” Oliva said. “For some people, it’s beautiful. For a lot of people, it’s not fair.’’