Where Are They Now?: Tony Oliva

Oliva will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 24
Tony Oliva
Tony Oliva

Courtesy of the Minnesota Twins

Tony Oliva knows patience. When he left his home in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, in early April 1961—two weeks before the Bay of Pigs invasion—to pursue a major league baseball career with the Minnesota Twins in the United States, he did not know the botched military operation would keep him from returning for 11 years. When he began that career at a Hall of Fame pace—Rookie of the Year in 1964, American League batting champ that same year and the next, All-Star eight straight seasons, another batting title in 1971—he didn’t know a knee injury late that year would sabotage the final five seasons. And leave his hopes of making it into the National Baseball Hall of Fame dangling for 45 years.

In December, Oliva—who still helps out with the Twins, coaching in spring training and adding commentary on Spanish broadcasts—waited with Gordette, his wife of 54 years, at their Bloomington home for the long-anticipated call. This time it came. He’d been elected into Cooperstown’s venerable institution. “I didn’t think it was going to happen,” he says in his heavy accent. “Like my wife says, ‘It’s never too late.’ I was very happy.”

Oliva will be inducted, along with former Twins teammate Jim Kaat and five others, on July 24, four days after his 84th birthday. Oliva’s plaque will depict him as a Twin, the only MLB team he ever played for.