Reusse: Twins great Jim Kaat finally enjoying life as a Hall of Fame pitcher

Alex Kormann, Star Tribune/Star Tribune/TNS

Tony Oliva walks among us, and it has not been difficult for Minnesotans to track his joy over being inducted into the Hall of Fame last July, 46 years after limping through his final game for the Twins, the only big-league team he knew.

You could run into Tony at Target Field and get a "hola" and maybe a cellphone photo. You could see him at a David Morrell Jr. fight at the Minneapolis Armory and get a return wave.

You could just run into him out and about, and relay to Tony O. how danged happy you were to see him make the Hall — perhaps throw in the popular, "You should've been in years ago."

Sid Hartman used to always refer to him as "Mr. America," for reasons known only to Sid, but now at 84, maybe more than ever, Tony is "Mr. Twin."

As 2022 winds down, we have not been tracking as closely the Hall of Fame reaction toward Jim Kaat, also 84 — perhaps because he was well-traveled after Twins owner Calvin Griffith sent him packing in mid-August 1973.

Kaat pitched for another decade after that, with a 93-78 record, 414 appearances and 1,516 innings. And he remains either first or second with Bert Blyleven in Twins career victories, innings, starts and complete games.

So how is it down there in your winter home in Florida five months after induction, Mr. Kaat?

"We've moved; we got out of Florida," Kaat said. "We wanted a slower pace. We're living in Beaufort, South Carolina, one of those mossy, idyllic southern towns.

"It's actually a town built on all these little islands. There's seven feet of tide here. You get some people unfamiliar, and they take a boat out, don't pay attention, and when they come back they're stuck in the mud.

"We like it. Margie's fly fishing for redfish here, rather than trout. She's addicted. She loves fly fishing."

Margie was a golf pro in Florida when she met Kaat. She's now @troutlady1 on Instagram. Jim is still on the golf course when the weather's right, which it wasn't this week in Beaufort.

"I heard 19 degrees this morning," Kaat said. "That's not Minnesota, but it's not golf weather, either."

Asked about the impact of being a Hall of Famer, Kaat said induction weekend always will stand alone as an experience to remember.

"The people at the Hall of Fame, starting with Jane Forbes Clark, do such a tremendous job … the experience couldn't be better," Kaat said. "And the party the Twins threw the night before, for Tony and me, was tremendous.

"Jack McKeon, my first manager in the minors, was there. How great is that?

"The Hall of Fame also made me the host for an event at Pathfinder Village, a community nearby for residents with Down syndrome — mostly adults, not kids.

"I ran a kickball game, and they were into it."

The Kaats spend the summer in Manchester, Vt. Margie fishes the famous Batten Kill and Kaat plays golf at Ekwanok Country Club, a glorious old course.

"We're only two hours from Cooperstown, so now that I'm in the club, the Hall of Fame knows it can call to help out with events such as Pathfinder," he said.

Kaat also freed his schedule by announcing his retirement from broadcasting. He had been doing a number of weekly telecasts with Bob Costas as his partner on the MLB network.

There was a flap last year when he casually referred to Nestor Cortes, the Yankees' change-of-speed, breaking-ball lefty as "Nestor the Molester" — in connection with the way he messed with hitters' minds.

The reaction was ridiculous, as Cortes pointed out, and did not drive Kaat away from the booth.

"There are two reasons: one, is when I walk in the clubhouse, I'm a stranger … there are no conversations to have," he said. "Also, I have nothing in common with the way the game is being played today.

"I admit the players' great skills, but I don't like the way they're being programmed down to the nth degree. And I don't want to turn into the old guy in the booth to always be saying, 'Back in my day ...'

"It was just time to go."

There was more conversation and then Kaat said:

"Not long after the vote was announced, I got a congratulatory call from Sandy Koufax. We had a great conversation, and then we realized this.

"We were two lefties that faced each other in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series. Sandy at his peak was the best ever and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972.

"And there's me, very good for a long time but never unhittable, makes it in 2022. Fifty years later. Isn't that amazing?"

Happily so, Kitty. You might not be Mr. Twin, but you're still ours, complete with retired jersey.