The 67th Greatest Royal of All-Time is Bob Oliver
Before there was the Curse of Balboni there was the Curse of Bob Oliver
Bob Oliver was a versatile ballplayer and the first power hitter in Royals history. His twenty-seven home runs in 1970 was the franchise record until John Mayberry topped the mark in 1975. His son, Darren, born in Kansas City, also became a major leaguer as a left-handed pitcher.
Oliver was from Shreveport, Louisiana and signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1963. He established himself as a power hitting outfielder with double digit home run totals in five of his six minor league seasons. In December of 1967, he was dealt by the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Minnesota Twins for veteran pitcher Ron Kline. The next season, he set a career high in home runs for AAA Denver with twenty, while hitting .297 for the Twins top affiliate.
Despite that performance, the Twins left the twenty-six year old Oliver unprotected for the 1969 Expansion Draft. The Royals, looking for offense, took Oliver with the nineteenth pick. He made the opening day starting lineup as the team's right-fielder, but got off to a horrid 1-23 start to begin his Royals career. He soon began to heat up, however. On May 2, he went 4-7 in a doubleheader with a home run and four RBI, and on May 4, he went 6-6 with a home run and three RBI. On July 4, he hit the first grand slam in Royals history, off Seattle's Jim Bouton. He had enough athleticism to play all three outfield positions, although he spend most of his time in right field. Oliver ended 1969 with a .254 average, and his thirteen home runs were second on the ballclub.
Oliver provided even more lineup flexibility in 1970 by splitting time between first base and third base. He got off to a great start, hitting .300 in April with a pair of multi-homer games and five home runs in the last week of April. A late September slump lowered his average to .260, but Oliver ended the year with 27 home runs and 99 RBI, both franchise records, and among the top ten in the league. Oliver's more natural position was first base, but interestingly he posted a .698 OPS at first base in 112 games, but a .909 OPS at third base in 46 games.
Oliver spent that winter in Puerto Rico, leading the winter league in home runs and RBI, giving the Royals reason to believe he would be the source of much of their power in 1971. He began the season at first base, but his power had evaporated. By the end of May he was hitting just .247 with only three home runs and a measly .336 slugging percentage. In June, the Royals moved Oliver to right field and used Chuck Harrison and Gail Hopkins at first base. Oliver ended the year with just eight home runs and a .351 slugging percentage.
Oliver looked to bounce back in 1972, and by May he had a .270 average, although his power had not returned. He had just one home run and a .381 slugging percentage. On May 5, the Royals shipped him to California for starting pitcher Tom Murphy. There were rumblings that Oliver was upset at the lack of African-Americans on the team, particularly since the trading of outfielder Pat Kelly. However, in public Oliver had nothing but pleasant things to say about the Royals.
"It's tough to leave a club that you've been with this long. It's been a long association and I've made some good friends. I like Kansas City. My wife likes Kansas City. I'm not really surprised because they've been trying to trade me for two years."
The Angels put Oliver back at first base and he regained his power in Anaheim, hitting nineteen home runs for the Angels that year, including three against his former teammates. He finished in the top ten in RBI with 76, in hits with 154, and in triples with five in the strike-shortened season.
The Angels played Oliver all over the field in 1973, at first base, third base and in right-field. He continued to hit for power, hitting eighteen home runs and eighty-nine RBI. In 1974 Oliver split time between first base and third base, but his power dropped off precipitously, as he hit just eight home runs. Late in the year he was sold to the Baltimore Orioles as part of their push for the pennant.
Oliver began 1975 with the Yankees, but only played in eighteen games due to injury, hitting .138 before being released in July.
"My knees gave up on me. I didn't give up on baseball.."It was hard to just stand up, let alone play the game. It showed up in my performance. Balls get through that you used to easily grab, and you couldn't leg out a ground ball at the plate."
After retiring, Oliver tried to get into coaching, but found it difficult to find work. He instead worked for an oil company, then moved to Sacramento to work for McKesson Health. In 1999, he managed an independent league team in Sacramento. He also runs a Baseball Academy in the Sacramento area.
Today Bob Oliver is retired, enjoying watching his son pitch for the Los Angeles Angels.