Sunday, May 04, 2008

#106 Gene Oliver

This is another card that I was sent by reader Ed. As you can see, it has withstood the test of time, even though it's been battle-tested more than most of the other cards in my growing collection. Gene Oliver had a pretty interesting career. He was signed by the Cardinals in 1956 out of Northwestern University, where he had been a scholarship athlete in football. Gene was primarily a catcher, but also was a decent first baseman and serviceable outfielder. His longball power was his calling card, as he slugged 151 home runs in five-and-a-half minor league seasons. He led his league in deep flies three times, as you will see below on his card back. (Thanks to reader Mr. Schwartz for the excellent suggestion to scan the backs as well. I've been remiss in not sharing these great cartoons and stats with you; the minor league numbers especially are not available online.)

As you can see, Gene still showed some pop by the time he finally got playing time in the majors; he didn't stick around for a full season until he was 27. But 1965 would be a career year for Oliver, as he hit .270 with 21 home runs. He was one of six Braves to go deep 20 times or more , joining Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Joe Torre, Felipe Alou, and Mack Jones. He struggled following the team's move to Atlanta, but did become the first player to hit 3 round-trippers in a single game at Fulton County Stadium as part of a 4-for-4, 7 RBI performance. The following season, he was traded to the Phillies for the one and only Bob Uecker. It was actually a fitting trade, as Oliver reportedly was a ukulele player and kept his teammates loose with his sense of humor.

Perhaps Gene's most impressive legacy as a big leaguer is his .409 career batting average against Dodgers great Sandy Koufax. He is the only man to top .400 against Koufax in more than 50 career at-bats. Gene Oliver passed away in March of 2007 after undergoing lung surgery. He was 71 at the time.

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