Auburn, Ala.--Without a doubt the top relief pitcher in Auburn baseball history, Gregg Olson says he enjoyed a return to the Auburn campus where he was honored as a member of the university’s first Wall of Fame group at Plainsman Park.
A two-time All-American for the Tigers who pitched in Major League Baseball for 14 years, Olson was the first relief pitcher to win the American League Rookie of the Year award.
This past weekend in Auburn he fit in nicely with the illustrious group of honorees that includes Frank Thomas, Tim Hudson and Bo Jackson.
“Those guys are unbelievable,” Olson says. “Frank is going to be a Hall of Famer and Bo is Bo. Tim’s baseball career is on-going in the Major Leagues and is thoroughly impressive so it is a big honor.
“Bo Jackson is a one of a kind athlete and I still get people asking me what it was like to play with him,” Olson points out. “Frank Thomas was a one of a kind hitter. Tim Hudson has put up great numbers over his career.”
Olson’s career was quite impressive, too. He finished with 214 Major League saves and was an American League All-Star.
Former Auburn head coach Hal Baird, who introduced Olson at the Wall of Fame ceremony, says that the right-handed pitcher from Omaha, Neb., was his first national recruit. “Gregg was the number one pitching prospect in the nation as a senior in high school,” Baird says.
Playing for the Tigers in college, Olson converted from being a starting pitcher as a freshman to a closer. That proved to be the best role for the six-foot-four right-hander with a excellent fastball and one of the best curve balls in American League history.
“I came down to Auburn and the typical thing in college at that point was that everybody was a starter and if they weren’t in the rotation they became a reliever,” Olson remembers.
“My freshman year I did alright,” he says. “I muddled through the SEC and had a winning record. The ERA was horrible, but I held my own for a freshman coming into the SEC.”
In fall practice prior to his sophomore season, Baird and Olson decided that being a closer in the bullpen would be route to take with Olson.
“It was probably the best move I ever made because it fit my personality better to come into the game and go everything to the wall, max effort, hair on fire--that was me,” Olson says.
The numbers he posted were special. He was 11-1 with 10 saves and a 1.26 earned run average in his sophomore season. He followed that with a 7-3 record with 10 saves and an SEC-best 2.00 ERA as a junior.
Olson entered the Major League Draft after his junior season and was the fourth player selected in the first round going to the Baltimore Orioles. It didn’t take him long to make the Major League roster. After a late call-up in September of 1988, he followed that with a dominating spring training performance and made the Orioles.
That season he was named the American League Rookie of the Year. In his first save opportunity against the Oakland A’s, he nailed down the victory for the Orioles and never slowed that season.
“I looked up at the all-star break and looked at my numbers and saw they were comparable to anybody in the American League,” he recalls. He notes that after that point he was confident he belonged in Major League Baseball.
Living in Huntington Beach, Calif., with his wife and four children where he owns a business, Olson says he hasn’t been able to get back to Auburn very often although he stopped in briefly last year and played golf with Baird.
“You just get into life and don’t get back as much as you would like,” he says, noting several times he planned to bring the whole family to Auburn for a football weekend but conflicts with the kids’ sports schedules or something else prevented that from happening.
Gregg Olson's Wall of Fame artwork is shown on the wall at Plainsman Park.
He notes that he was surprised at how different the campus is in 2010 compared to when he was a student. “Everything has changed,” he says. “All of the roads I used to drive are dead ends into buildings and sororities. I am clueless where I am going here. I don’t get back enough.”
“Every time I am here I regret not being here more,” he adds.
Olson says he is glad he made the decision to attend Auburn. He narrowed his choices to Mississippi State and Arizona before signing with the Tigers. “In hindsight I wouldn’t change a thing. Knowing what I know, I still would have come here. They were three of the best years of my life.”
Olson notes his trip back to Auburn for the Wall of Fame ceremony was special. “It was great,” he says. “Look at the guys I went in with. To go in with these guys is great. I haven’t seen Bo and Frank for a while. It is a huge honor.”
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