The Day They Booed Tony Oliva

I only boo bad umpiring calls. I don't boo big league athletes. I certainly won't think to boo a Twin - someone out there trying to help win one for the home team.

I've been hearing a lot lately about people booing Minnesota spokesman and Twins great, Joe Mauer. Honestly, I think some people are more sensitive to this than me. Checking the fans' gear, Target Field still looks like "7 Heaven" to me. Joe still gets the biggest, warmest cheers when he steps to the plate.

The only time I really noticed booing was during the April 12 Angels game when Mauer popped out to third with one out and the bases loaded. And Mauer didn't get it near as bad as Morneau, who made the third out right after Joe. (Of course, no one booed either when they went on to belt home runs and pull out a 10-9 victory.)

I share the consensus that Mauer had a slow start, but that he is finding his swing. I hope people don't boo our best player, just as he finds his groove, but I also expect that Joe can handle it if they do. He's an accomplished player. Still, I offer this story to him in case his spirits lag:

Tony Oliva was Rookie of the Year in 1964. He also won the AL batting title that year and again in 1965. In 1965 Tony and the Twins went to the World Series, where they lost in seven games. Tony was second in the MVP voting that year to his teammate, Zoilo Versalles. He won a Gold Glove in 1966.

By 1969, Tony had been in six All Star Games. He led the league in hits four times. He and Harmon Killebrew were the leaders on a team that finished consistently strong. He was the personable guy and fan favorite that he remains today. Tony was already a Twins legend.

In 1969, the Twins new manager, Billy Martin, took the team to the top of the new Western Division. Tony had a .309 average, second in the league to teammate Rod Carew. He finished with 24 HR and 101 RBI, second on the team to Killebrew.

Minnesota had to face the Orioles in the first-ever ALCS, which was then best-of-five. In Game 1 in Baltimore, Tony hit a two-run 7th inning home run to put the Twins up 3-2, but the O's tied it in the ninth and won 4-3 in the 12th.

Game 2 was a scoreless tie until the 11th, when Tony backhanded a hit into right field and tried to throw Boog Powell out at the plate. Powell and the ball collided with George Mitterwald at the plate, the ball got away, and the Twins lost another one-run, extra innings game.

After the game, Tony realized he had hurt his arm on the throw. Badly. He could barely toss a ball.

Tony told manager Martin he wanted to play in Game 3 at Metropolitan Stadium. As he put it in his book Tony O!, "If we lost [Game 3], we would be done for the season. I wanted to do my job because I thought, even injured, I would be able to help the team with my hitting."

The team tried to keep Oliva's injury a secret, but the Orioles found out about it. Not only did they try to hit to right field, when they did they took extra bases on Tony.

In the ninth with the Twins down 9-2, Tony's bad throw to Carew turned a triple into 4-bagger. That's when the boos started. The next man singled and Tony's throw back had "nothing on it" and the boos increased. The next man tried to turn a double to right into a triple, but he was thrown out at third on a strong relay.

"Now the fans started cheering," according to Oliva in his autobiography, "but you could tell they were being sarcastic."

Tony was in the on-deck circle, being booed once again, when Carew grounded out to end the game and the Twins season.

After the game, an upset Tony told the press, "I never been booed in my eight seasons. They forget what kind of play I been before. I no understand why they boo." ("Injured Oliva is Booed")

Tony put it behind him, thankfully ("there was no use feeling sorry for myself forever"), and went on to help the Twins to another division win and himself to another batting title.

So keep your spirits up, Joe, Justin, Matt, A.J., Ryan Braun, their fans. Take comfort in Billy Martin's keen assessment while defending Tony Oliva, "There's always a couple of dumb people who come to every park."

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