Did you know that Ken Griffey Jr. did not win the Rookie of the Year?
Despite having a fine rookie campaign, that honor went to Gregg Olson. He has a name you probably forgot, or maybe thought was the catcher when the Braves went to the World Series. (That was GREG Olson, one G).
But at one point, Gregg Olson looked like he was going to be one of the dominant closers in all of baseball. For a while he was.
The Nebraska native became a star pitcher at Auburn University in the mid 1980’s. He had a good fastball but his curveball was simply unhittable. The Orioles, in their late 1980’s funk, had the 4th pick in the 1988 draft.
There were plenty of good players to choose from that year. Andy Benes went first overall. Steve Avery was third. The likes of Robin Ventura, Alex Fernandez, Tino Martinez, Jim Abbott, Royce Clayton, Ed Sprague, Marquis Grissom, Darren Oliver and Charles Nagy were all still on the board.
Baltimore selected Olson and he made the majors the same year he was drafted. He pitched well in 11 innings of relief for the dreadful parent team.
In 1989, Frank Robinson’s Orioles stunned all of baseball by contending for the AL East crown until the final weekend of the season. The season did not start well for Olson, who let up 3 runs in 2 innings in his first appearance.
But he settled down, piling up scoreless inning after scoreless inning. He posted a 1.20 ERA in May and a 0.77 ERA in June and took over the closer role from Mark Williamson.
The team had young pitchers like Jeff Ballard, Pete Harnisch and Ben McDonald. They also had some kid named Curt Schilling, but he wasn’t in their plans.
The rotation looked like one that would contend for a while. And Olson would be the anchor in the backend of the bullpen. He finished the season with 27 saves and a 1.69 ERA, good enough for 6th in the Cy Young vote. He received 26 of 28 first place votes for Rookie of the Year. Tom Gordon got one, Griffey got the other.
The Orioles would fall out of contention in 1990 and 1991 but posted winning seasons in 1992 and 1993. In each year, Olson found himself among the league leaders in saves, making the All Star team in 1990. His ERA’s of 2.05 in 1992 and 1.60 in 1993 kept him in the conversation for best firemen in the American League.
Then he tested the free agent waters and went to Atlanta, the reliable pennant contender with a history of closer issues. Olson looked to be the final piece of a championship puzzle. (And no, he was not a teammate of the other Greg Olson.)
But injuries derailed his season, where he posted a 9.20 ERA in 14 2/3 innings. And a strike ended the season prematurely.
Between 1995 and 1997, Olson wandered through the major league woods. The once dominant closer played for the Indians, Royals, Tigers, Astros, Twins and Royals again in a 3 year span, not distinguishing himself at any stop.
At age 31, he signed with the new expansion Arizona Diamondbacks where he had a nice comeback season. He saved 30 games for Buck Showalter’s squad and posted a respectable 3.01 ERA in the middle of the steroid era.
In 1999, the Diamondbacks made the post season and Olson saw his only October ball in his career, pitching in 2 games of the Division Series loss to the Mets. After 2 seasons in Los Angeles, his career ended with his release on June 29, 2001.
A vagabond after his days in Baltimore, he is an Oriole fan favorite. He was inducted into the Oriole Hall of Fame in 2008 and etched his name into Orioles lore with a nice piece of relief work.
On July 13, 1991, Bob Milacki, Mike Flanagan and Mark Williamson all held the mighty Oakland A’s hitless over 8 innings. Olson pitched the ninth, got the save and clinched the combined no hitter.
Lots of relievers compile saves. How many get to clinch a no no?