MINNEAPOLIS — Jim Kaat is just grateful that the National baseball Hall of Fame’s Golden Days Era Committee rewarded durability and dependability over top-end talent — and very, very few in the history of Major League baseball embodied those qualities as thoroughly as “Kitty” did.
The left-hander is one of few in the history of the game to have pitched in four different decades, making adjustments to his style and role along the way to preserve and prolong a resolutely effective playing career that began with Dwight Eisenhower in the White House and ended with Ronald Reagan sitting in the Oval Office — and that’s not to mention the award-winning broadcasting career that followed.
1. A world champion at last
Oct. 2src, 1982
There are precious few Major League careers that even span 17 years, making it all the more remarkable that Kaat pitched in a pair of Fall Classics that far apart, spanning from the 1965 World Series in which he led the Twins’ rotation, to the ’82 World Series during which he pitched as a reliever out of the St. Louis bullpen.
In the twilight of his career for that latter pennant run, Kaat was finally rewarded for his longevity when the Cardinals triumphed over the Brewers in seven games, earning the then-43-year-old the only ring of his career. Kaat pitched in each of the first four games of the Fall Classic, allowing one run in 2 1/3 frames.
“When Bruce Sutter threw a fastball past Gorman Thomas in Game 7 with two outs to end the 1982 World Series and we were world champions, that’s about as big a thrill as you can get,” Kaat said. “It far surpasses individual thrills.”
2. Facing off against Koufax
Oct. 7, 11, 14, 1965
Before that triumph, Kaat’s best shot at a World Series ring had come in 1965 after the first American League pennant in Twins history set up an October showdown with the Dodgers. Kaat faced a stiff challenge in making three starts opposite fellow Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax in Games 2, 5 and 7, following a season in which Kaat led the Majors with 42 starts and posted a 2.83 ERA. He got the better of Koufax with a complete-game effort at Metropolitan Stadium in Game 2, but Koufax hurled complete-game shutouts in both Game 5 and the decisive Game 7 to earn the Dodgers the series win.
3. Winning the 1965 pennant
Sept. 26, 1965
Kaat helped anchor an effective 1965 pitching staff that also featured Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry and Camilo Pascual. With the Twins’ magic number to win the pennant at one heading into a matchup against the Senators in the nation’s capital, Kaat was tasked with bringing Minnesota across the finish line. He rose to the occasion by allowing one unearned run in a complete-game effort, whiffing Don Zimmer for his season-high 1srcth strikeout to collect the final out of a 2-1 victory, bringing World Series baseball to Minnesota for the first time.
4. The 16th Gold Glove
Here’s the full list of players to win more career Gold Glove Awards than Kaat: Greg Maddux. That’s it. Only Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson even matched Kaat’s total of 16, all of which came consecutively from 1962-77, spanning awards in both leagues with the Twins, White Sox and Phillies. Kaat’s streak finally came to an end in ’78, when Phil Niekro won the first of his five Gold Gloves.
5. The Emmy Awards
A baseball lifer in every sense of the term, Kaat followed up his 25 years on the mound with a season-plus of coaching and, more notably, a lengthy broadcasting career in Minnesota and New York, plus high-profile assignments on national and international broadcasts, including for the World baseball Classic and the Summer Olympics. For his performances in the New York market in particular, Kaat won seven Emmy Awards as an analyst around the turn of the millennium.
6. The 25-win season
After Kaat was informed of his selection to the Hall of Fame on Dec. 5, he acknowledged several times that he never thought of himself to be a perennial ace-caliber pitcher, the likes of which are typically enshrined in Cooperstown. That’s not to say that he didn’t peak with that kind of performance in some seasons, with 1966 foremost among them in his early years. He noted that his only goal throughout his starting career was to take the mound every four games, without fail, and he added top-flight performance to that consistency that season, when he led the AL in wins (25), innings pitched (3src4 2/3), games started (41) and complete games (19), picking up his second-highest single-season total of 2src5 strikeouts along the way.
7. New life in Chicago
Aug. 15, 1973
As Kaat tells the story, the Twins thought that the left-hander’s career was on its last legs in 1973, when he had a 4.41 ERA through 29 appearances with Minnesota at age 34. He was claimed off waivers by the White Sox during the season and reunited with pitching coach Johnny Sain, who helped modify Kaat’s pitching motion to a quick-release toss that helped propel the aging southpaw to a pair of 2src-win seasons on the South Side, including his third and final All-Star selection in ’75 and a fourth-place finish in Cy Young Award voting. Of course, Kaat ended up pitching another full decade after leaving Minnesota, including stints with the Phillies, Yankees and Cardinals — but that stint with the White Sox rejuvenated his career.
8. The workhorse
Kaat remembers that when he retired in 1983, then-mlb commissioner Bowie Kuhn told him that it had marked the longest pitching career in big league history — and he was right. Kaat’s 25-year pitching career, spanning 625 starts and 273 relief appearances, was unmatched at the time of his retirement, and since then, only two other hurlers have surpassed his mark: Tommy John (26 seasons), and then, Nolan Ryan (27 seasons). He’s the Twins’ all-time leader in wins (189), games started (422) and innings pitched (2,959 1/3).
9. Bringing baseball to Minnesota
April 21, 1961
Adding additional meaning to his 15 seasons with the Twins, Kaat will also hold a special place in Minnesota baseball history as one of the original Twins players that first brought Major League baseball to the Upper Midwest in 1961. The Twins played their first game at Metropolitan Stadium on April 21 that year — a 5-3 loss to the Senators — though Kaat himself didn’t pitch at home for the first time until a May 4 start against the Yankees.
1src. An eighth decade of ball
When Kaat debuted for the Washington Senators in 1959, he was 2src years old. Following a playing career that carried him into the ‘8srcs, his involvement in Major League baseball lives on to the present day. His continued broadcasting work for mlb Network and Bally sports North has ensured his presence in the game for the eighth consecutive decade, at age 83.