HOF inductee Kaat reflects on lengthy major league career

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May 11—Jim Kaat has been to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown many times in his life; as a fan, as a Major League pitcher, and as a broadcaster.

But Tuesday was the first time he walked into the Plaque Gallery as an official member of the game's group of legends.

One of the members of the Hall of Fame Class of 2022, Kaat toured the Hall of Fame and Museum and talked about his lengthy career and how honored he was to be included amongst the best of the best.

"Humbling," was how Kaat described the experience. He went on to describe his reaction to seeing the video montage of the game's legendary figures, saying, "When I saw the video — which I think that every organization should have every player in their organization see that video — when I saw that video, my first thought was, 'I don't belong here.' There are so many great players here.

"There are different levels of the Hall of Fame," he said. "I would never be naive enough to put myself in the class with Sandy [Koufax] and Gibby [Bob Gibson] and [Tom] Seaver and [Juan] Marichal. But I'm honored to be here, I think as a representative of longevity and maybe dependability, accountability, and I'm happy about that."

There weren't many players who spent more time in a Major League uniform than Kaat, known as "Kitty" in his playing days. The Michigan native entered the majors with the Washington Senators in 1959 at the age of 20 and didn't retire until he was 44 after the 1983 season. He remains one of only a handful of players to have played in four different decades.

Kaat spent most of his career with the Minnesota Twins (which they became after moving from Washington), while also spending time with the St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, and New York Yankees. He was a three-time All-Star and won a World Series in his penultimate season with the Cardinals in 1982. Kaat retired with a career record of 283-237, 2,461 strikeouts, and more than 4,530 innings pitched. His 16 career Gold Gloves are tied for second all-time with Brooks Robinson and trail only Greg Maddux's 18.

After his playing days were over, he became an award-winning broadcaster with both the Yankees and Twins.

Kaat's long wait for the Hall of Fame ended in January when he was inducted by the Veterans Committee along with Tony Oliva, Gil Hodges, Minnie Miñoso, and Buck O'Neil. They will join first-ballot selection David Ortiz in this year's induction ceremony on July 24.

Kaat was especially grateful to enter the Hall of Fame with Oliva, his teammate of more than a decade with the Twins in the 1960s and 70s. They helped Minnesota win the 1965 American League pennant.

"Tony was the hitter that all the catchers and pitchers feared, more than anybody, that combination of power and average," Kaat said. "To be his friend for over 60 years now and to go in with him is very special."

When asked how his life had changed since learning he was headed to Cooperstown, Kaat replied with a smile, "I've signed my name about 3,000 times." But he quickly became serious when thinking about how his perception would change now that he'll have a Hall of Fame plaque of his own soon.

"The magnitude of the attention by being a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame is so much different than, 'Oh, he had a nice career. He played 25 years,'" he said.

While never considered one of the game's truly dominant pitchers, Kaat's ability to adjust and adapt through different eras and styles of play made him successful for a quarter of a century at the highest level.

He pointed to a piece of advice he received from former coach Eddie Lopat after his first All-Star season in 1962.

"[Eddie] said, 'You know, you're going to have to be twice as good next year to be as good as you were this year.' So I'm scratching my head wondering, 'What does that mean?' What it really told me was that you don't just sit back and say, 'Well, I'm here, I'm going to stay here.' You have to keep on trying to improve and I think that's what drove me every year to go to spring training like, 'I've gotta earn my spot.' You kind of adjust with the times."

Kaat said he has written his induction speech and that he plans to focus a great deal on his father, who first brought him to Cooperstown in 1947 as well as his first big league game in 1946. A doubleheader in Detroit featuring the Tigers and Boston Red Sox made a lasting impression on a young Kaat.

"I think my little seven-year-old brain said, 'I want to be one of those guys,'" he said.