Nate Oliver’s life and career couldn’t be squeezed onto one baseball card back.
Forget the stats. This Dodger/Giant/Yankee/Cub has savored adventures that Hall of Famers would envy.
Born in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1940, Oliver received a unique opportunity when signed by the Dodgers organization in 1959. How many newcomers got to perform before a Grapefruit League crowd of friends and family? Oliver remembered:
“Very, very exciting and unbelievable for me to be blessed to be granted such an opportunity. Yes, the gang attended several spring games.”
In Oliver’s 1969 campaign, his second career homer came as a Cub. His blast was part of a 19-0 pounding handed the Padres. The next day, the Tribute had a headline reading, “Break Up the Cubs!” Oliver recalled:
“It helped me to have one of my best performances as a major league player. Finishing that day 3 for 4 with two doubles, a homer, 4 RBI and 3 runs scored.”
Back in 1964, Oliver made news for his performance at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field. After singing the National Anthem, Oliver received appreciative applause during each at-bat. His musical talent didn’t remain a secret at home. How many Anthems did he perform?
“Several, maybe 4 at Dodger Stadium, one LA Lakers, one Anaheim and one Oakland Coliseum. I think that’s it.”
However, check out the awesome P.S. for his singing stats:
“The most memorable was having to stand in for Ella Fitzgerald. Because she could not make it so I was a last-minute replacement. And my good friend Ozzie Smith and the Cards were in town. He was in total disbelief!”
Oliver’s love and respect for baseball still blazes today. As evidence, I’d submit the fine interview captured by Ed Attanasio on the “This Great Game” website.
“He didn’t have much of a career. What can I write to him about?”
These types of questions come yearly from through the mail collectors, or from fledgling journalists and historians wanting to write some kind of a profile of a little-known “cup of coffee” player.
Always, I give the same two-word answer: SPRING TRAINING!
In Florida or Arizona, in every pre-season, countless players yearn for a shot at the majors. Some mount big debuts, only to find a career saddled in the minors. Nevertheless, others cultivate friendships with well-known stars.
Most of all, spring training is the first time a player’s dream seems real.
What does the player remember from his first spring training? WHO does he remember?
Those stories never show up in stats. However, those stories can give baseball history a whole new meaning.
I was racing against time, trying to get surviving players to reply by mail. Diana believed untold stories remained in league history.
One overlooked detail by AAGPBL historians is the fascinating range of jobs these players found after baseball. Pitcher Erma Bergmann (who passed away in 2015) served decades on the St. Louis police force.
I congratulated her on her public service as a police officer. That might be why she concluded her letter this way:
“I never hit a prisoner during my career and I never stole from any drunks.
Asking is free. You never know what details you’ll unearth!