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Tony Oliva

The Life and Times of a Minnesota Twins Legend

2015
Author:

Thom Henninger
Foreword by Patrick Reusse

Tony Oliva

The astounding success and personal struggle of the Twins’ beloved outfielder and batting champion—from his arrival from Cuba at age twenty-two to the present

The story of Tony Oliva, one of Minnesota’s most popular baseball players, is told for the first time in this full-scale biography. Through the voices of Oliva, his family, and his teammates, Thom Henninger charts the highs and lows of Oliva’s remarkable career along with his struggles to build a family and recover the large and close-knit community he had left behind in Cuba.

Thom Henninger did a marvelous job telling Tony’s story. It will remind readers what a special person he is and how he had to deal with so much adversity to find his way to the major leagues. I am so proud to have been his teammate and to be his friend. All of us who played with Tony know he is a Hall of Famer and the best hitter of his era.

Jim Kaat

If not for the botched Bay of Pigs invasion, Minnesota might never have known one of its most popular baseball players, Twins three-time batting champion and eight-time All-Star Tony Oliva. In April 1961, the twenty-two-year-old Cuban prospect failed to impress the Twins in a tryout, but the sudden rupture in U.S.–Cuba relations made a return visa all but impossible. The story of how Oliva’s unexpected stay led to a second chance and success with the Twins—as well as decades of personal and cultural isolation—is told for the first time in this full-scale biography of the man the fans affectionately call “Tony O.”

With unprecedented access to the very private Oliva, baseball writer Thom Henninger captures what life was like for the Cuban newcomer as he adjusted to major league play and American culture—and at the same time managed to earn Rookie of the Year honors and win the American League batting title in his first two seasons, all while playing with a knuckle injury. Packed with never-before-published photographs, the book follows Oliva through the 1965 season, all the way to the World Series, and then, with repaired knuckle and knee, into one of the most dramatic pennant races in baseball history in 1967. Through the voices of Oliva, his family, and his teammates—including the Cuban players who shared his cultural challenges and the future Hall of Famers he mentored, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett—the personal and professional highs and lows of the years come alive: the Gold Glove Award in 1966, a third batting title in 1971, the devastating injury that curtailed his career, and, through it all, the struggle to build a family and recover the large and close-knit home he had left behind in Cuba.

Nearly forty years after Oliva’s retirement, the debate continues over whether his injury-shortened career was Hall of Fame caliber—a question that gets a measured and resounding answer here.

Tony Oliva

Thom Henninger, a St. Paul native and lifelong Twins fan, is associate editor at Baseball Digest. His work has appeared in ESPN Insider, and for more than seventeen years he wrote for STATS LLC, where his column “Thom’s Take” ran weekly. He has authored player profiles for Baseball America and contributed to Play It Again: Baseball Experts on What Might Have Been.


Patrick Reusse is a sportswriter and radio personality in the Twin Cities. He writes weekly columns for the Minneapolis–St. Paul Star Tribune.

Tony Oliva

Thom Henninger did a marvelous job telling Tony’s story. It will remind readers what a special person he is and how he had to deal with so much adversity to find his way to the major leagues. I am so proud to have been his teammate and to be his friend. All of us who played with Tony know he is a Hall of Famer and the best hitter of his era.

Jim Kaat

There wasn't a better hitter for average, power and driving in BIG runs than Tony throughout his baseball career. His career numbers speak for themselves. There is also no one more loved and respected in the Twins organization.

Bert Blyleven

The value of this book resides in the portrait Henninger paints of the man himself: a ceaselessly positive and selfless person who adapted admirably to his adopted country while never forgetting the needs of family members left behind in Castro-ravaged Cuba.

Spitball Magazine

An entertaining read.

Sports Book Guy

This is a story that was worth telling and one that is in many ways well told.

Sport Literature Association

Henninger nicely summarizes the crucial moments without getting bogged down in baseball-book minutiae.

SB Nation

Tony Oliva: The Life and Times of a Minnesota Twins Legend is an enjoyable book, one that Twins fans and baseball history fans will relish.

The Writer’s Journey

Tony Oliva

Contents

Foreword
Patrick Reusse
Preface
1. Young Pedro
2. Life after Cuba Closes
3. The Minor Leagues
4. A Fast Start to a Big League Career
5. Injured Rookie Wins Unprecedented Batting Crown
6. Oliva Leads Pennant Push
7. Life’s Highs and Lows
8. The Great Pennant Race of 1967
9. Marriage and Family in the Year of the Pitcher
10. Baseball’s Summer of Change
11. Twins Repeat with a New Bill in Charge
12. Family Reunions and the Career-Changing Knee Injury
13. The Extremes of 1972
14. The Final Years as a Player
15. Tony O: The Man
Epilogue: The Hall of Fame Question
Acknowledgments
Index