Al Oliver started slashing line drives as a Pirate rookie in 1969 and continued to do so for 18 seasons. Primarily playing first base (where, on May 23, 1969 he made three errors in the fourth inning), the smooth lefthanded hitter batted .285 with 17 home runs to tie for second behind Ted Sizemore in the 1969 NL Rookie of the Year voting. More frequently used in the outfield from 1971 on, he hit .312 in 1972, his first of seven All-Star seasons. He was batting .360 at the 1976 All-Star break, but an inner ear infection sidelined him in the second half, and he finished at .323. It was his first of nine straight .300 seasons. In the years 1970 through 1975, he played on five Pirate division champions, but in December of 1977, Pittsburgh traded him to Texas with Nelson Norman in exchange for Bert Blyleven and John Milner. He is among the Pirates’ all-time leaders in doubles (276), home runs (135), RBI (717), and extra-base hits (467).
In 1980, Oliver played in all of Texas’s 163 games and reached career highs with 209 hits and 117 RBI. On August 17 in Detroit, he established an AL record with 21 total bases in a doubleheader (four home runs, a double, and a triple). Wearing number 0, he became the Rangers’ all-time leading hitter (.319), and reached the club’s top ten in every batting category before being sent to Montreal in a March 1982 trade for third baseman Larry Parrish.
Playing first base for the Expos in ’82, Oliver batted a career-high .331 to capture the NL batting title. He also led the NL in hits (204) and doubles (43), and tied with Dale Murphy for the RBI lead with 109. He made the TSN Silver Slugger team for three straight years, at three different positions (left field in 1980, DH in ’81, 1B in ’82). He was the first player to amass 200 hits and 100 RBI in a season in both the AL and the NL.
After spending 1984 with the Giants and Phillies and the first half of 1985 with the Dodgers, Oliver wound up in Toronto, for whom he delivered a pair of game-winning hits in the 1985 LCS. He retired among baseball’s all-time top 50 in games played (2368), hits (2743), total bases (4083), RBI (1326), and extra-base hits (825).