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After two seasons, the Red Sox decided that Oglivie couldn't field, that his speed was wasted and that he was at best a platoon player. In 1973 they traded him to Detroit for Infielder Dick McAuliffe, who was nearly through. "It hurt to lose Ben," says Nekola. "And we lost him badly."
"When I first came up, I was just happy to be there," says Oglivie. "I figured I'd just wait my turn. My turn never came. I'd play two good games, and then I was back on the bench again. I couldn't comprehend that." Rather than pop off, Oglivie tried to be patient and compliant. "I've seen too many guys talk themselves out of baseball," he says.
Ironically, Oglivie was trapped in one of baseball's subtle prejudices. Latin American ballplayers are expected to be hot-tempered; if they're not, it must mean they don't care. "People think Rod Carew is lazy," says Oglivie. "I look at him and see a great intensity."
Going to Detroit should have been Oglivie's salvation, but just as Rousseau had Diderot, Oglivie had Ralph Houk, then the Tigers' manager. "My weakness was not fielding," says Oglivie. "My weakness was not playing. And personally, I think the author of the platoon system was a guy who couldn't hit lefthanders. But after a while you begin to believe these guys who are supposed to be the authorities. For a time I really believed I couldn't field and I couldn't hit lefties."
Meanwhile, the Red Sox were labeling Cooper a bad fielder and shipping him off to Milwaukee for George Scott and Bernie Carbo. Cooper has won the American League's Gold Glove for first basemen the last two years.
After Oglivie hit 21 homers for the Tigers in 1977, in only 450 at bats, the club traded him to the Brewers for pitchers Rich Folkers and Jim Slaton. Folkers never pitched another inning in the majors, and Slaton returned to the Brewers a year later as a free agent. Thus, Oglivie inspired two of the worst trades of the '70s. The second trade was the first major deal Harry Dalton made as the Milwaukee general manager. "I thought I made a good trade," Dalton says now, "but believe me, I didn't think I was getting the future American League home run champion."
All sorts of good things befell Oglivie when he was sent to the Brewers. He met Frank Howard, then a coach. "Day in and day out he'd hit fly balls to me in the outfield," says Oglivie. "It was great just knowing someone was willing to come out and help me. The man worked, and his work generated an enthusiasm in me." Through Cooper, Oglivie met Attorney Tony Pennacchia, who helped straighten out some of Oglivie's tangled personal affairs. (His first marriage ended in divorce.) Oglivie then put himself on a Nautilus program to boost his strength. And last, but not least, Oglivie met Tammy Hunsinger in Mesa, Ariz., an hour from the Brewers' spring-training complex in Sun City. The Oglivies plan to make Tempe their year-round home. Says Pennacchia, "His marriage to Tammy turned his career around. I think Ben was finally able to find peace with himself."
In his first year in Milwaukee, 1978, Oglivie led the club in batting (.303) and slugging percentage (.497) while hitting 18 homers and driving in 72 runs. But he was still thought of as an incomplete player. The big break for Oglivie was a bad break for Larry Hisle. When Hisle went on the disabled list in early 1979 with a torn rotator cuff, Oglivie was given the leftfield job to have and to hold. "It was a consolation to me that Ben got his chance," says Hisle, himself a late bloomer. "I think, eventually, though, even if I hadn't gotten hurt, he would've played. I'm just honored to have him as a teammate."
Oglivie responded to full-time duty with a .282 average, 29 homers and 81 RBIs in 514 at bats. Even more significant, he batted .337 against the lefthanders he wasn't supposed to be able to hit. Last year, at the advanced age of 31, he came into his own. He was second in the league in total bases to Cooper. He had 12 game-winning RBIs, and in clutch-hitting situations from the seventh inning on (how's that for a statistic?), he batted .345. He also hit one of the longest home runs of the year, on April 20 off Ron Guidry. For all his power, Oglivie struck out just 71 times. Jackson, on the other hand, whiffed 122 times in his quest of another homer.
Oglivie wasn't such a bad fielder after all. He used to be known as Spiderman for the rather unorthodox way he patrolled the outfield, but while the nickname was once meant derisively, it's now a term of endearment. Although Oglivie still lets an occasional line drive play him, former Brewers Manager George Bamberger maintains that there is no leftfielder in baseball better at reducing a sure double in the corner to a single. Last year Oglivie was second in the league in assists, with 18. He can also steal a base: He had 34 in his first three years with the Brewers. "For a guy who couldn't field, couldn't run bases and couldn't hit lefties, he's doing pretty well," says Manager Buck Rodgers. The one thing Oglivie cannot do is slide, but then he may be taking Thoreau's words to heart: "The swiftest traveler is he that goes afoot."