Though Oliver was never considered a big time power hitter, he was a constant during the Pirates run of NL East titles in the early to mid 1970s. Originally a first baseman, he was moved to center field, where played between Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. After Clemente's tragic passing on New Year's Eve of 1972/1973, Dave Parker became a solid run producer and one of the top right fielders in the game. His numbers were consistent, if not dominant during that time as he finished 2nd in the 1970 NL Rookie of the Year voting, made 3 All Star teams and finished 7th in the NL MLP voting during his 10 seasons in Pittsburgh.
However, it was Oliver's next 6 seasons that put him in elite company. After the 1977 season, he was involved in the 12 player, 4 team trade which put him in Texas. He would hit over .300 in all 4 of his seasons with the Rangers, equaling his .300+ seasons with the Pirates. He hit .319, 19, 117 in 1980 with 43 2Bs and 204 hits, scoring 96 runs. He slugged in the high .400s for his first three seasons in Texas, with 1981 being the strike shortened season. Outside of having Bobby Bonds as a teammate in 1978, he was the Rangers star player and a 2 time All Star. He was traded to the Montreal Expos before the 1982 season, where he hit 22 HRs and led the NL with a .331 average, 109 RBIs, 204 hits, 43 2Bs and 317 total bases. He finished 3rd in the NL MVP voting. He became the first player in MLB history to have a 200 hit, 100 RBI season in both the American and National Leagues.
Oliver played through a shoulder injury during his time in Montreal, which effected his defense. Known as a solid defensive player, his defense suffered and in turn, he started to become a platoon player in 1984. He split that season with Philadelphia and San Francisco playing in just 119 games, the least games he played in a full MLB season (1981 was the strike shortened season where the most games a player played in was 109). He still managed to hit .301 (.298 for the Phillies and .312 for the Giants). The next season was split between Los Angeles and Toronto, where he hit a career low .252, but was 3-8 with 3 RBI in the ALCS against Kansas City.
One of the most unfair events occurred during the 1980s. Owners chose to collude against the players in order to drive down salaries. Oliver was not offered a contract by anybody, including the Blue Jays for the 1986 season. This ended his career prematurely, one that had a total of 2743 hits. A healthy Al Oliver was not given an incentive laden contract; not even a spring training invite. Hall of Fame consideration is given to players who's career is shortened due to injury (Sandy Koufax). At age 38, Oliver was forced out of baseball.
With his struggles defensively, Oliver could have DHed. Paul Molitor spent the last 8 years of his career in that role, finishing with 3318 hits. 130 hits in each of two more seasons would have put Oliver over the magical number. When Oliver was eligible for the Hall of Fame vote, he received just 19 votes, 4.3%. Because he received less than 5%, he was removed from the ballot for the following season. While players who were colluded against received a substantial sum in damages in the class action lawsuit, there is no repaying for time lost. Hopefully the veterans committee will consider Al Oliver the next time contemporary players are eligible for voting in, which I believe is the year after next. It would be deserving for a player who put up his numbers to have a chance at enshrinement. At the very least, it should be put up to vote.