Spending eight decades involved in Major League Baseball, Bob Oldis has a lifetime of stories to tell, and fortunately at 87, and he is still around to share them. Oldis has teamed up with Stephen Bratkovich, a Minnesota-based author and SABR member to pen his autobiography, “Bob Oldis: A Life in Baseball.” Standing on the cover in his Pittsburgh Pirates uniform with a proud glare into spring training sun, the smile on his face is a true metaphor for all of the pleasures baseball has brought him amidst the many adversities he’s lived through.
Serving primarily as a reserve catcher over his seven seasons in the major leagues, the Iowa City native appeared in 135 games, amassing a .237 average in 236 career at-bats with the Washington Senators, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Philadelphia Phillies from 1953-1963. While his career line might be pedestrian at best, he often had the best seat in the house to watch the top players of his era perform up close and personal.
Bratkovich reveals the side of Oldis’ career that can’t be explained through statistical measures. He shows how Oldis endured the loss of his father during his first professional season and how it fueled him to make the major leagues less than four years later. His ability to battle in the face of tough times is a consistent theme in Oldis’ journey that Bratkovich so expertly illustrates.
At every stage of his career, Oldis seemingly met a roadblock either off or on the field that he had to navigate to continue his career. From the tenuous position of a backup catcher only one roster move away from starting or going back on the bus to the minors, to being away from his wife who was caring for two boys with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, to working his way back to the majors at 32 after suffering a broken jaw right before the start of the 1960 season, Oldis beared more than most would have tolerated to keep on playing.
Throughout all of the challenges that he faced, he never put his head down, instead approaching them head on. His perseverance paid off as he finally made the Pittsburgh Pirates club for the 1960 campaign. He appeared in 22 regular season games, including two in the 1960 World Series en route to a Pirates victory. After Bill Mazeroski hit his now infamous walk-off home run in Game 7 off of Ralph Terry, Oldis’ crowning as a World Series Champion was vindication for all of the hardships he endured through that point in his career.
He remained active in the majors through 1963 with the Phillies, and was a member of their coaching staff in 1964 when they had their infamous late-season collapse. He later coached in the major leagues with the Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos during their inaugural season. Since the early 1970s, Oldis has worked for over 40 years as a scout for the Expos and the Marlins, signing a contract at the age of 87 with the Marlins to continue in his role with the club for the 2016 season.
“A Life in Baseball,” is much more than Oldis’ tales of the time he spent in between the lines. His story is one of how the game has kept him going through all of the curveballs life has thrown him.
– Ed. Note – Oldis played the entire 1960 season with the Pirates, not from July as earlier reported.