Darren Oliver grew up in a baseball family and pitched all or parts of 20 major-league seasons (1993-2004, 2006-2013). Although the lefty saw action for nine different major league teams, he made his biggest mark with the Texas Rangers, the club that drafted him out of high school. During his three stints with Texas, Oliver helped the club reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 1996, and pitched in two World Series (,2010 and 2011). After retiring at age 43, he joined the Rangers’ front office.
An imposing figure on the mound at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Oliver was primarily a fastball pitcher, with a curveball and sinker in his repertoire.1 His statistics reflect his longevity and durability. In 766 games (229 starts), he notched 1,259 strikeouts in 1,915 2/3 innings and compiled a 118-98 (4.51 ERA) record. In 13 postseason series over seven campaigns, he pitched in 30 games with one start, going 2-2 (4.32).
Oliver also hit well for a pitcher. Over 243 plate appearances – including 10 as a pinch-hitter – the right-handed swinger batted .221 with 20 RBIs and one home run. More about that home run later.
Darren Christopher Oliver was born on October 6, 1970, in Kansas City, Missouri. His father, Robert Lee “Bob” Oliver, was the expansion Kansas City Royals’ Opening Day right fielder in 1969 and had produced 27 homers and 99 RBIs in the just-completed 1970 campaign. Bob Oliver was a major-leaguer for eight seasons. Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, he moved to Northern California as a child and played basketball and baseball at American River Junior College in Sacramento. The Pittsburgh Pirates signed him in 1963 and assigned him to their Class A affiliate in Gastonia, North Carolina, where he met Hazel Lynette Werts. They married in 1966. Their union lasted until his death in 2020. They had four children: Tony, Darren, Teresa and Kathy.2
The family moved to Anaheim, California, when Bob Oliver was traded to the Angels in 1972, and he earned the nickname “King Ollie” by finishing among the AL’s Top 10 in RBIs for the second time in three years.3
When Darren was four his father played his final major-league game. The Olivers settled in Rio Linda, near Sacramento, where Bob remained active by founding a baseball academy for at-risk children and coaching youth teams.4 He was inducted into the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.5
Darren played baseball and basketball at Rio Linda High School. As a teen, he also attended the Dusty Baker School of Baseball.6 While his parents were his strongest supporters, Oliver’s dad didn’t focus on a sports career for his son. “He never pushed me into baseball,” Darren said. “The No. 1 thing he taught me is responsibility. How to mow the lawn. Sweep the floors. Wash the car. Shoveling. He instilled values that you catch yourself passing on to your own kids.”7
By his senior year, Oliver developed into a hard-throwing lefty with a fastball exceeding 90 mph. He made the Sacramento All-City team with a 0.76 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 46 innings. He also batted .462.8 Major-league teams took notice. “He’s got a real good future,” said Phillies scout Joe Borch. “He’s real smooth with his delivery and he’s growing, he’s going to get stronger. You got to look at him down the road.”9
On June 1, 1988, the morning of baseball’s amateur draft, Oliver headed off to high school like any other teenager. He already had a full-ride scholarship offer from UNLV (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), but he looked forward to what the day would bring. “I think I might go to school for a little while, come home around 12, sit by the phone and watch TV,” he told a local paper. “I’m just excited. I just want to know what round I’m going to go in, what team will pick me.”10 The Texas Rangers selected him in the third round, and Oliver turned professional by signing with scout Rick Schroeder the following day.11
Oliver, 17, debuted with the Rangers’ rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate in Port Charlotte, Florida, that summer. Under manager Chino Cadahia (who later became a major-league coach and was named to the Royals’ front office in 2022), Oliver started nine of his 12 appearances and went 5-1 with a 2.15 ERA.12
In 1989, Oliver was assigned to Texas’s Class A, South Atlantic League (SAL) affiliate in Gastonia, North Carolina, where his father’s career had started 26 years earlier. “It was tough to play baseball back in that day,” Bob Oliver said in an interview. “There was a lot of racism in baseball. I understood more and more of what Jackie (Robinson) had to go through the older I got, and the more I started to read about him. He went through hell. But he opened the door for ballplayers like myself and the other Black ballplayers before me.”
While Darren didn’t experience the same level of intolerance, he always kept his father’s advice in mind. “He always told us, ‘Treat people like you’d like to be treated, I don’t care who they are. That’s probably the best advice he ever gave us.”13
The Gastonia Rangers produced the SAL’s best regular season record in 1989 with a roster featuring future Hall of Fame catcher Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez, future All-Star closer Robb Nen, and infielder and second baseman Jeff Frye, who later became Oliver’s agent.14 In 24 outings (23 starts), Oliver struck out 108 and allowed only 86 hits in 122 1/3 innings. He walked 82 batters and finished 8-7 (3.16).
The next season, though, Oliver experienced arm trouble that limited him to a total of 16 innings pitched in 1990 and the beginning of 1991. He eventually underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow in May 1991.15 In another move reminiscent of his father, he took classes at American River Junior College while he recuperated, concerned that his career could be over before it really began.16 When the long rehabilitation process became frustrating, Oliver took inspiration from his brother, who reminded him, “Look at me. I’m working 9-to-5 every day. Is that what you want to do?”17 After focusing on strength training and improving his mechanics, Oliver returned to pitch effectively in limited duty in 1992, including three starts for the Tulsa Drillers in the Double-A Texas League, and two starts in eight games for Port Charlotte of the Florida State League.18
In 1993, Oliver spent a full season in Tulsa’s bullpen and compiled a 1.96 ERA in 46 appearances, with 77 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings. The Rangers called him up and he made his major-league debut on September 1 at Fenway Park. “It didn’t go real well,” Oliver recalled 20 years later.19 He entered a tie game with two outs in the 10th inning and a runner, Billy Hatcher, on first base to face Mike Greenwell, Boston’s leading hitter that season. Oliver’s first pitch sailed to the backstop, allowing Hatcher to move into scoring position, The official scorer ruled that the runner was going on the play and awarded him a stolen base. Oliver was ordered to walk Greenwell intentionally and then removed from the game.20 Texas won the game, 9-7, in 12 innings.
In his only other outing, Oliver pitched well on the season’s final weekend. Another rookie highlight was playing alongside 46-year-old future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, who retired after the season. Oliver’s father had previously been Ryan’s teammate from 1972-1974 with the Angels.
In spring training 1994, Oliver became the first pitcher to face Michael Jordan in an exhibition game. (The basketball great opted not to play for the Chicago Bulls in the 1993-94 season to instead become an outfielder in the Chicago White Sox’s organization.) Oliver fielded Jordan’s grounder and tagged him going down the first base line. While Jordan went back to basketball after batting .202 in Double-A that summer, Oliver made Texas’s Opening Day roster as a reliever.21 He was sent to Triple-A Oklahoma City for six appearances in April, but otherwise spent the season in the majors; going 4-0 with a 3.42 ERA in 43 games. Despite a 52-62 record, the Rangers were in first place in the AL West in early August when a players’ strike led to the cancelation of the remainder of the season.
Rangers beat writer T.R. Sullivan noted later that Oliver and outfielder Rusty Greer were the first interracial road roommates in team history. Oliver and Greer became such good friends that the arrangement continued for several seasons.22
In 1995, Oliver moved into Texas’s starting rotation at the end of May. By June 26, he was 4-2 with a 4.32 ERA in 17 outings (seven starts), but he left the mound with a shoulder injury that night after working just one inning. His season was over, and in August Oliver underwent career-threatening surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff, his fourth operation overall.23
Oliver didn’t merely make it back to the mound in 1996, he started 30 games for Texas and earned a career-high 14 victories. With a 14-6 record, his .700 winning percentage was the AL’s fourth best. For the first time in franchise history, the Rangers won the AL West. The AL Division Series against the New York Yankees was tied at one game apiece when Oliver started Game Three at the Ballpark in Arlington. He outdueled Jimmy Key and carried a 2-1 lead into the ninth but yielded to the bullpen after the first two batters hit safely. Oliver was charged with a 3-2 defeat after the Rangers’ relievers faltered, and Texas was eliminated the following day.
The Rangers finished with a losing record in 1997, but Oliver logged a career high 201 1/3 innings in 32 starts and led the club with 13 victories. When the San Francisco Giants visited Texas on June 12, he made history by throwing the first pitch of Major League Baseball’s inaugural interleague game. Former Rangers center fielder Darryl Hamilton jumped on Oliver’s low, inside fastball and delivered a single.24
“At the time, it was kind of neat and special,” Oliver said in 2010. “It was unique at the time. (Interest in) interleague has kind of faded over the years since it’s been going on for so long. The first time, it was pretty special.”25
Oliver was hit hard in the first half of 1998, with a career-high ERA of 6.53. On July 31, Texas traded him with third baseman Fernando Tatís and a player to be named later (Mark Little) to the St. Louis Cardinals for former All-Star shortstop Royce Clayton and right-hander Todd Stottlemyre. In 40 starts with the Cardinals through the end of the 1999 campaign, Oliver went 13-13 with a 4.26 ERA. One of his most memorable victories came on September 7, 1998, the day St. Louis’s Mark McGwire hit his 61st homer to tie Roger Maris’s (since broken) single-season record. Oliver kept his calm demeanor amid all the excitement and worked into the seventh inning to bring home a 3-2 win over the Chicago Cubs.26
In the National League, Oliver was also able to demonstrate his hitting ability. He batted .274 in 1999, with four doubles in 73 at-bats. Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa utilized him as a pinch-hitter five times.27
In January 2000, Oliver signed a three-year, $19 million free agent contract to return to the Rangers.28 But his second stint with Texas was not as successful. Bothered by shoulder tendinitis, he went a combined 13-20 with a 6.72 ERA in 49 starts over two seasons before he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Carl Everett on December 12, 2001.
Oliver went 4-5 (4.66) in 14 appearances (nine starts) for Boston before he was released on July 2, 2002. He re-signed with the Cardinals, but after he pitched poorly in five starts for their Triple-A Memphis Redbirds affiliate, St. Louis released him on August 13.
The Colorado Rockies signed Oliver for 2003. He started 32 of his 33 outings and led the team with 13 wins. In a victory over the Giants at Coors Field on July 10, he hit his only big-league homer, off San Francisco righty Brian Powell. Years later, Oliver smiled recalling the highlight of his career. “The home run I hit. Oh, yeah. I could hit, man. I did some damage.” 29
Oliver became a free agent again and signed with the Florida Marlins in early 2004. He lost his rotation spot before the end of May, though, and his contract was sold to the Houston Astros on July 22, where he pitched only 14 innings in nine appearances.
In 2005, Oliver did not pitch in the majors, although he did pitch in the Pacific Coast League for the Tucson Sidewinders and Iowa Cubs. He pitched well for the Rockies in spring training but requested his release rather than accept a bullpen role.30 He signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but was released again after four ineffective starts in Triple-A. When the Chicago Cubs became the third organization to release him in less than eight weeks on May 20, Oliver decided to retire.31
During the 2005 winter meetings, however, Oliver’s agent approached him about meeting with the New York Mets, who were looking for a lefthanded reliever. Oliver made the Mets team in 2006 spring training and started his second career in baseball.32
Oliver credited his father’s example for his own resolve to stay in the sport. “One of the biggest things my father taught me was to not get too high or low,” he said. “It’s a mental grind, especially in baseball when you are playing every day.”33
After proving himself with the division-winning Mets for a year, including six scoreless innings in New York’s NLCS loss to the Cardinals, Oliver joined the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as a free agent. The team won three straight AL West titles from 2007 to 2009, as Oliver continued his resurgence by going 15-3 with a 3.09 ERA, with 178 strikeouts in 178 appearances.
The Angels failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs in 2007 and 2008 but swept the Red Sox in the 2009 ALDS. Oliver finished off Game One by whiffing future Hall of Famer David Ortiz, and earned the victory in Game Three to earn the moniker “Postseason’s Hidden Hero.”34 But the Angels lost the ALCS to the Yankees in six games.
A free agent again, Oliver signed a two-year deal to join the Rangers for a third time. Texas reached the World Series in both 2010 and 2011. Oliver helped the Rangers claim the first pennant in franchise history in 2010 by posting a 2.48 ERA in a career-high 64 appearances. He saw action in three games of the ALDS victory over the Tampa Bay Rays and saved Game Four of the ALCS against the Yankees. Oliver logged a 3.38 ERA in two World Series outings against the Giants, but the Rangers fell in five games.
In 2011, Oliver – by then 40 years old – lowered his regular season ERA to 2.29 in 61 games. He earned two holds in the ALDS against the Rays and retired all eight batters he faced against the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. The Rangers took on one of Oliver’s former teams, the Cardinals, in the World Series. He was credited with the victory in Game Five after pitching a perfect eighth inning before Texas broke a tie to seize a three-games-to-two advantage. In Game Six at Busch Stadium, Oliver came on to pitch the bottom of the 10th with a two-run lead, and the Rangers just three outs away from the championship. St. Louis’s Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay greeted him with singles, however, and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter Kyle Lohse. Oliver was replaced by righthander Scott Feldman, who allowed the tying runs to score. In the 11th, the Cardinals’ David Freese led off with a game-ending homer.35 The Rangers lost Game Seven, and the Series, 6-2, the following night.
Oliver played his final two seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, compiling a 2.88 ERA over 112 appearances, with a record of 6-8. Known as the “wise, older guy” on the pitching staff, he became the unofficial captain of the bullpen, sharing his experience and knowledge with the younger players.36
On September 29, 2013, Oliver, 42, pitched in his last major league game. The 20-year veteran started the seventh inning against Tampa Bay after receiving a standing ovation from the Rogers Centre crowd of 44,551, his teammates, and the opposing Rays.37
Oliver threw 11 pitches – eight for strikes – in a perfect inning that included strikeouts of Wil Myers and Evan Longoria. “He had some kind of career,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “Twenty years – very few guys get to do that. To play a very small part and get to manage him is a pretty neat thing. One of the better pitchers in the game for a long time.”38
Oliver attributed his long career in the majors to “good health, good teams, and good coaches.” He also prepared for the game by studying the opposing hitters. “There’s really no magic explanation why I’ve stayed around so long.”39
With his continued success as a left-handed specialist, Oliver could have considered playing longer. “They always say, if you’re left-handed and you’re breathing, you can pitch forever,” he once said.40 Oliver had thought about retiring a couple of times before, but the game kept calling him back. In 2013, though, spending more time with his family was the deciding factor. He and his wife, Melissa (Welch), who married in 1999, had two sons, Brock and Maxwell.41
“Every kid needs a father at home. That’s important to me. I think it should be important to a lot of people,” Oliver said. “Baseball’s second. Family’s first. I’ve always said that. … Even though I was there, a lot of times I didn’t see them that much either, but obviously I was at home. It’s still tough. They’d go to school and by the time they got home from school, I was already at the field, and by the time I got home from the field, they’re sleeping. Then you go on the road. It doesn’t matter where you’re at, it’s still tough.”42
Leaving at the top of his game, Oliver was grateful for his two decades of major league ball. “There’s only a handful of guys that get to do that,” he said. “I never would’ve imagined I would play that long, so I’m truly happy and blessed.”43
Oliver shared the distinction with Nolan Ryan of being the only two players to play for all four original major league expansion teams: the Rangers (originally the Washington Senators), Angels, Mets, and Astros).44
Although Oliver’s baseball accomplishments include 1,915 2/3 innings pitched, and playing in two World Series, his clubhouse presence is how he wants to be remembered in the game.
“That I was a good teammate. That’s important, for me,” he said. “That I passed on everything that I’ve learned in the game to some of the younger guys on and off the field. And they remember that… and they pass it on to someone else.”45
Oliver joined the Rangers’ front office in 2014 as Special Assistant to General Manager Jon Daniels. He works closely with the Rangers’ farm system and enjoys working with minor league pitchers.46 In addition, Oliver is active in the Rangers’ Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, which introduces youngsters to the game he’s lived his whole life.
“All kids need something to look up to and look forward to,” he said. “Obviously, there’s not a lot of minorities playing baseball, as you can tell. It’s probably six or seven percent in the MLB right now. Just the fact to come out here and show them that there were guys that did play maybe will give them some more inspiration to come out here and play some more baseball.”47
Oliver is also involved community outreach in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, where he and his family live. His activities include hosting events with the Family Hope Center at the MLB Youth Academy48 and the Arlington Urban Ministries S.A.F.E. Program (Securing Arlington’s Families on the Edge).49
Oliver joined his father in the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2018.50 As noted by the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame, “Darren will always be known for his longevity and dependability while doing it as one of the classiest and professional baseball players of his time. His accomplishments and character explain why he is one of our finest pitchers and human beings from our area.”51
Last revised: November 7, 2022
This biography was reviewed by Malcolm Allen and David Bilmes and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
All player, team, and game statistics come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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6 Henry Schulman and Edvins Beitks, “Etc.” San Francisco Examiner, June 12, 1997: D5.
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11 1994 Texas Rangers Media Guide: 73.
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13 “Sixteen years after Jackie Robinson’s debut, Bob Oliver got to see baseball’s ugly side,” National Post (Toronto), March 26, 2013, https://nationalpost.com/42/how-jackie-robinson-opened-the-door-for-bob-oliver-and-the-next-generation. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
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21 Dan Wohl, “20 years ago, Michael Jordan made his White Sox debut,” MLB.com Cut4, March 4, 2014, https://www.mlb.com/cut4/20-years-ago-michael-jordan-made-his-white-sox-debut/c-68658878. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
22 T.R. Sullivan, “Two of a Kind,” Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram, March 3, 1996: 1.
23 Simon Gonzalez, “Texas Pitcher Oliver Faces Career-Threatening Surgery,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, August 22, 1995: 1.
25 Stephen Hawkins, “Oliver recalls memorable matchup,” Lubbock-Avalanche Journal, October 27, 2010, https://www.lubbockonline.com/story/sports/pro/2010/10/27/oliver-recalls-memorable-matchup/15257714007/. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
26 John Todd, “Favorite Son in World Series… Finally!,” Rio Linda Messenger, October 23, 2010, https://www.riolindamessenger.com/favorite-son-in-world-series-finally/. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
27 John Lott, “What will Blue Jays reliever Darren Oliver remember about his career? His one home run, of course,” National Post, September 16, 2013, https://nationalpost.com/sports/baseball/mlb/what-will-blue-jays-reliever-darren-oliver-remember-about-his-career-his-one-home-run-of-course. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
28 Mel Antonen, “Oliver Returns to Rangers for $19M,” USA Today (McLean, Virginia), January 13, 2000: 6C.
29 Lott, “What will Blue Jays reliever Darren Oliver remember about his career? His one home run, of course.”
30 Tracy Ringolsby, “Told He’ll be in Bullpen, Oliver Prefers to Leave,” Rocky Mountain News, March 30, 2005: 4C.
31 Mark Billingsley, “The Final Call Belongs to the Game,” Sacramento Bee, July 21, 2005: G4.
32 Ben Reiter, “The Men Who Pitch Forever,” Vault, May 16, 2011, https://vault.si.com/vault/2011/05/16/the-men-who-pitch-forever. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
33 Pat Ragazzo, “MMO Exclusive: Darren Oliver Talks 2006 Mets,” Metsmerized Online, February 25, 2020, https://metsmerizedonline.com/mmo-exclusive-darren-oliver-talks-2006-mets/. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
34 Tyler Henderson, “Texas Rangers: The rise and return of Darren Oliver,” Fansided, 2021, https://nolanwritin.com/2021/02/03/texas-rangers-darren-oliver-story/. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
35 “Busch Stadium – October 27, 2011,” Back to Baseball, https://www.backtobaseball.com/playballworldseries.php?page=108&IDindex=SLN201110270&date=October+27%2C+2011. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
38 Neil Davidson, “Blue Jays reliever Darren Oliver retires on high note after 20-year career,” Globe and Mail – The Canadian Press (Toronto), September 29, 2013, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/baseball/blue-jays-reliever-darren-oliver-retires-on-high-note-after-20-year-career/article14592766/. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
39 Davidson, “Blue Jays reliever Darren Oliver retires on high note after 20-year career.”
40 Reiter, “The Men Who Pitch Foreveer.”
41 Mike DiGiovanna, “Darren Oliver keeps going strong,” Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2009, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2009-may-18-sp-angels-fyi18-story.html. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
42 Aaron Gleeman, “Darren Oliver considering retirement despite 2.10 ERA,” NBC Sports, October 1, 2012, https://mlb.nbcsports.com/2012/10/01/darren-oliver-considering-retirement-despite-2-10-era/. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
43 Lott, “What will Blue Jays reliever Darren Oliver remember about his career? His one home run, of course.”
44 Henderson, “Texas Rangers: The rise and return of Darren Oliver.”
45 Evan Peaslee, “Veteran lefty Oliver still searching for first ring,” MLB.com, https://www.mlb.com/news/veteran-lefty-oliver-still-searching-for-first-ring/c-55050952. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
46 Jared Sandler, “Darren Oliver on his role with the Rangers, his MLB career, and much more,”
105.3 The FAN, January 19, 2021, https://www.audacy.com/1053thefan/sports/darren-oliver-on-his-role-with-the-rangers-his-mlb-career. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
47 “Darren Oliver makes a stop in Shreveport with the RBI Program,” KTBS 3, March 8, 2018, https://www.ktbs.com/sports/darren-oliver-makes-a-stop-in-shreveport-with-the-rbi-program/article_ddaf56ae-316b-11e8-8c26-93143e191e5e.html. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
48 “Former Texas Rangers pitcher Darren Oliver hosts holiday drive-thru party for West Dallas families,” Bruckner.org, December 22, 2021, https://www.buckner.org/blog/former-texas-rangers-pitcher-darren-oliver-hosts-holiday-drive-thru-party-for-west-dallas-families/. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)
49 “Darren Oliver to host event for Arlington Urban Ministries S.A.F.E. Program,” MLB.com, December 12, 2017, https://www.mlb.com/press-release/darren-oliver-to-host-holiday-event-for-families-from-arlington-urban–263338536. (Date accessed August 22, 2022.)