Happy Birthday to Tony Oliva, one of the best hitters I saw during my eleven years as a major league pitcher. Tony played for the Minnesota Twins for his entire career, from 1962 to 1976. He won the American League batting title three times, including his rookie year in 1964 (and was second or third four times). He had a career .304 batting average. Tony did especially well when I pitched: his batting average popped to .321, 18-for-36. I only struck him out twice.
I faced Tony for the first time early in my rookie season. It was May 12, 1966 at Metropolitan Stadium and I was throwing against veteran pitcher Camilo Pascual. I got him out the first time I faced him, in a 1-2-3 first inning. In the third inning, Earl Battey hit a leadoff single. I struck out Bernie Allen. Then Camilo hit a single to Mickey Mantle in center, moving Earl to second. Cesar Tovar hit a single to essentially the same spot, and the Twins scored two runs. Then Tony came up with and singled to Roger Maris in right, scoring Caesar. We were down 3-0. Ralph Houk yanked me the next inning, after giving up three singles and a run (and in my defense, two strikeouts). We lost that game, 4-3. It wasn’t until 1970 that I was able to stop him from hitting safely in a game I was pitching.