Darren Oliver of the Texas Rangers throws a pitch against the Detroit Tigers in the eighth inning of Game One of the American League Championship Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Texas Rangers reliever Darren Oliver is a baseball lifer. And that's true not only for the length of his major league career (18 seasons), but the fact that he's the son of a former major leaguer: Bob Oliver, an outfielder-first baseman who played eight seasons for five teams in the early 1970s and hit 94 career home runs.
This is a tale of Oliver's two careers and several interesting connections with another important figure in Rangers history.
Oliver was drafted in the third round in 1988 by the Rangers. There weren't many major league players produced in that round (just 12 of the 26 players ever made it to the show) and just one, Marquis Grissom, produced more career WAR (25.6) than Oliver (18.8 through 2011).
When Oliver made his major league debut five years later, one of his teammates was Nolan Ryan, who was finishing up his Hall of Fame career at age 46. Oliver threw pretty well in relief for the Rangers in the rump season of 1994, although he issued quite a number of walks (35 in 50 innings). For that performance, he was rewarded with a promotion to the rotation, but that's where Oliver's career began to go south. Though he did start one game for the Rangers in the postseason in their ALDS against the Yankees in 1996, he never had an ERA under 4.20 nor a WHIP under 1.38 over the nine years he spent primarily as a starter (1996-2004). His average WAR for those nine seasons was 0.8 -- essentially the very definition of "replacement player".
During those years he was also going through quite a baseball odyssey. Check out his post-2001 transaction log from his baseball-reference.com page; he's been through nine different organizations since then, including three in 2005 alone. He didn't even play in the major leagues that year; he made seven minor league starts with a 9.38 ERA and it appeared his career was over at age 34.
But Oliver came back to the majors in 2006 and began a remarkable run. He's been in the postseason each of the last six years with three different teams, and in November 2009, just a year after Nolan Ryan was named president of the Rangers, Oliver rejoined his original club and his former teammate became his boss. That began his third stint with the team; he had been traded away at the July 31 deadline in 1998, reacquired in 2000 and traded away again after 2001.
Darren Oliver has become a very good situational lefty. Since 2006, when moved to the bullpen full time, he's posted a 2.97 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP and has walked just 2.4 hitters per nine innings while striking out 7.4 per nine. The Rangers are favored to win the World Series and perhaps Oliver and Ryan will both get their first World Series ring.
There's one more connection between these two men. The first wave of MLB expansion, in 1961-62, added four teams: the Mets, Colt 45s (now Astros), Angels and Senators (now Rangers). Nolan Ryan spent his entire career with those four teams, becoming the first player to play for all four when he joined the Rangers in 1989.
The only other player in MLB history to play for all four of those teams is Darren Oliver.