RIP to Ed Olivares, who appeared in two dozen games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1960 and ’61. He was also the father of former major-league pitcher Omar Olivares. He died on October 14 in Puerto Rico. Olivares was reportedly 83 years old but was likely 84.
According to Baseball Reference and Major League Baseball, Edward Olivares Balzac was born on November 5, 1938, in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. There are questions about the date and place of birth, though. When the St. Louis newspapers started to write about Olivares in the early 1960s, they referred to him as a Brooklyn-born ballplayer who moved to Puerto Rico when he was 3 years old. Ancestry.com has several questionnaires that minor-league ballplayers have filled out in past decades. Olivares listed his place of birth as Brooklyn on the forms from 1957, 1958, 1959 and 1963. A second questionnaire from 1959 in English (the other 1959 questionnaire was written in Spanish) lists Mayaguez as his birth place. Also, there is a listing for an Edward Olivares, born in November 5, in the New York City Birth Index for 1937, not 1938. One more piece of evidence is a passenger list from the S.S. Borinquen, which sailed from New York City to San Juan, arriving on September 4, 1939. Among the passengers are Antonio (29) and Altagracias (25) Olivares, who were born in Mayaguez in 1910 and 1914, respectively. They were traveling with children Trinidad (born December 18, 1939 in Brooklyn), Jenare (born May 17, 1936 in Mayaguez) and Edward (born November 5, 1937 in Brooklyn). Taken as a whole, the evidence points to Olivares being born in Brooklyn in 1937.
Olivares attended Immaculate Conception Academy in Puerto Rico, where he also played basketball. He was originally signed by the Philadelphia Phillies organization in 1957 by scouts Chief Bender and Carlos Negris. He played just a handful of games that year for Class-D teams in Moultrie, Ga., and Tampa as a middle infielder due to illness. In a 1966 interview, he said he went 1-for-3 in his first game and started feeling ill. “They found I had diphtheria,” he told the Montgomery Advertiser-Journal. “I lost 40 pounds and almost died.”
Olivares was released by the Phillies and signed with the Cardinals, spending most of 1958 as the third baseman for the Class-D Daytona Beach Islanders. It was an excellent season, as Olivares slashed .305/.389/.492, with 30 doubles and 15 home runs. He also showed a little speed, with 15 stolen bases, and he scored 96 runs while driving in 74. His fielding at third base was sloppy and never really improved, but his offense was impressive enough to overlook it.
Olivares was invited to the Cardinals training camp in 1959 but was late in arriving. That caused some confusion with St. Louis manager Solly Hemus, who was trying to identify all the team’s prospects. He walked up to one player and asked, “You’re Olivares?” “No,” the player replied. “I’m Bob Gibson.” Olivares eventually did show up and was assigned to Double-A Tulsa to start the season. He struggled to hit there, with a batting average under .200 in 15 games. His one home run, though, was a grand slam that was part of a team record 16 runs scored against San Antonio. Olivares was sent to the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Class-C Northern League, where he found his hitting stroke and clubbed 16 home runs to go with a .319 batting average.
Olivares began 1960 with Memphis of the Southern Association but was sent to the Class-B Winston-Salem Red Birds after just a few games. He had a career year with the Birds, clobbering 35 home runs and driving in 125 runs. He broke the Carolina League record for home runs in a season, which had been set by Gene Oliver (30 homers) in 1957. He hit .315 and also showed good patience at the plate, drawing 83 walks. Though Olivares had played just a handful of games at the higher levels of the minor leagues, St. Louis promoted him to the major leagues in September. He joined the Cardinals on September 7, along with Red Birds teammate Gary Kolb. Neither player was given much of a chance to play by manager Hemus. Olivares struck out at a pinch-hitter on September 16 and 21 and started the final game of the season in San Francisco. He was 0-for-3 with a strikeout against Mike McCormick and committed an error in 2 chances at third base.
The Cardinals assigned Olivares to the Triple-A Marlins in 1961. The team started the season in San Juan, but it moved to Charleston, W.V., after about a month. Low attendance and pressure from the International League were factors in the relocation. Olivares hit at a steady clip and began to learn a new position while with the Marlins. The Cardinals had an established third baseman in Ken Boyer, so the best opportunity for Olivares was to learn the outfield. He committed 6 errors in the outfield in 78 games with the Marlins, but it was better than his fielding at third base.
The Cardinals brought Olivares back to the majors on July 27, 1961. Boyer was bothered by a knee injury, so Olivares was promoted as an insurance policy. As it turned out, Boyer didn’t miss any time at third base, so Cardinals manager Johnny Keane worked Olivares in left field and right field.
“Olivares has a big bat — a big minor-league bat — and he’s been a power hitter all his baseball life,” Keane said. “Up here you have to meet power with power. With Boyer likely to be around a few years, we’ve turned Olivares from a third baseman into an outfielder. We feel now is a good time to look at him.”
Olivares started the July 28 game against Milwaukee as a right fielder. He was 1-for-4 on the day with an infield single off reliever Don McMahon for his first major-league hit. He picked up his only major-league RBI on July 30 with a sacrifice fly off the Braves’ Warren Spahn. Unfortunately, St. Louis’ outfield was very crowded, with 40-year-old Stan Musial still playing well and productive regulars like Curt Flood, Joe Cunningham, Charlie James and Don Taussig. Olivares got into 21 games and was 5-for-30 for a .167 batting average. He also played 50-1/3 innings in right field and left field and had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.
Olivares’ Cardinals career ended with the expansion draft in October 1961 for the New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s. He was drafted by Houston, and manager Harry Craft had plans to make him the team’s starting third baseman. Unfortunately, Olivares fractured his ankle in spring training and never played an inning of professional ball in 1962. He returned with San Antonio of the Texas League in 1963 and batted .292 with 23 home runs and 90 RBIs. He was named to the league’s All-Star Team, but it didn’t get him a return ticket to the majors with the Colt .45s. Instead, he was acquired by the Minnesota Twins and sent to the Atlanta Crackers of the Triple-A International League. He had a disappointing season and was briefly cut by the club, hitting .225 with 15 home runs. Olivares played for two more seasons, hitting poorly for Charlotte in 1965 and Montgomery in 1966. Those were his final years in pro ball.
Olivares played for a total of 24 games for the Cardinals over parts of 2 seasons. He had a .143/.139/.143 slash line, with 5 hits in 35 at-bats. He drove in 1 run and scored twice, and he also stole a base. Over 9 seasons in the minors, Olivares hit .277 with 140 home runs, and he also played winter ball in Puerto Rico regularly in his offseasons.
Olivares retired in 1967, and his son Omar was born in Mayaguez that July 6. He was the third of four children born to Ed and his wife, Edna — two sons and two daughters. “He told me he decided to go with the family instead of traveling. He wanted to stay home,” Omar said just before making his own major-league debut in 1990.
“I’m planning on going to college in Mayaguez. I’ve already sent in my papers, and the only thing that will change my mind is a real good contract next year,” Olivares said in his 1966 interview. He didn’t want to quit baseball entirely but seemed content with making it just a winter activity. “I plan to play somewhere. After you’ve been in baseball for five or six years, it’s hard to give it up.”
The elder Olivares took a job as a director of sports and recreation in western Puerto Rico and also coached the Mayaguez winter ball team. He made a significant contribution to 1990s baseball history when he recommended that his outfielder son consider pitching. “He knew I had a nice and loose arm, and he knew I was never going to get hurt. I was 16 years old. So I changed from an outfielder to a pitcher,” Omar said. Ed Olivares also had a role in his son’s first professional contract; he was the godfather of the son of Abraham Martinez, the scout who signed Omar Olivares.
“My dad was his best friend and always told him, ‘I’m going to get Omar ready and when he’s ready, you’re going to sign him,” Omar said in 1998. “When Dad thought I was ready, he called him.”
Ed Olivares made his son a pitcher, but a twist of fate made Omar Olivares a Cardinal. He came up through the minors with the San Diego Padres and was traded to St. Louis just before the 1990 season, much to his father’s delight, Omar said. “When I got traded last winter, my daddy said, ‘Maybe you’re going to end up where I started.'”
Omar Olivares had a fine career of his own, and he even managed to hit 5 major-league home runs, which was something his slugger father never did. “I really don’t have any other idols besides my dad,” he said. “I owe a lot of the things I know right now to him.”
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