Reusse: Twins salute Jim Kaat as he joins fellow Dutchman Bert Blyleven in Cooperstown

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The pitching record book for the Twins, starting with their debut here in 1961, is dominated by a pair of workhorses with many common traits.

This does not include their pitching arms, which for Jim Kaat was left and Bert Blyleven was right. They were tall, Kaat listed at 6 feet 4 and Blyleven at 6-3.

They were of Dutch heritage, Kaat second generation in the Dutch region of southwest Michigan, and Blyleven born in Zeist, Holland, before being moved to the United States at age 2. Together, they are first and second all-time in the career endurance categories for Twins pitching, including wins, innings, starts and complete games.

On Saturday, Blyleven had the honor of introducing Kaat at the retirement ceremony for Jim's No. 36. It was the ninth retired jersey for the Twins, including Blyleven's No. 28.

Last winter, Blyleven had a chance to participate in a larger honor for Kaat. Rod Carew was unable to take in the meeting for the 16-person Golden Days Committee. Blyleven took his place in the voting for the 10 nominated players from the 1950 to 1969 era.

The committee could only vote for four of the 10, and 75% (12 votes) was needed. Blyleven had the privilege of voting for two great Twins — Kaat and Tony Oliva — and they both made it on the number.

Kaat first pitched in the big leagues as a 21-year-old in September 1959 with the Washington Senators. He became a staple in the rotation in 1961, as the team was settling into its new home on the Bloomington prairie.

Blyleven was two months past his 19th birthday when making his first start for the Twins on June 5, 1970. Kaat was 32 by then, had a 25-win season on his résumé, and was a leader for a team that had a very successful first decade in Minnesota.

"I would use the term 'mentor' to describe Jim for me, along with our pitching coach, Marv Grissom,'' Blyleven said Thursday. "Two great guys who had been through it all.''

On that same day, Kaat was at a Minneapolis hotel and was asked about those early days with Blyleven.

"I had been told about him by some Twins people in the winter, saying, 'This kid might have a better curveball than Camilo's,' " Kaat said. "My old teammate, Camilo Pascual, had been best curve I'd seen, so I probably smiled at that.

"Then, Bert was with us that spring, still 18 then. I saw that arm, the way he threw the ball, and I remember thinking right away, 'He's going to be around for a long time.' "

Kaat was gone in 1973, when owner Calvin Griffith was miffed at the way he was pitching for a $60,000 salary and released him. The White Sox landed him for $100, and he won 20 games in each of the next two seasons in Chicago.

Blyleven was gone in 1976 by trade, when free agency had arrived and there was a bitter June departure from the Twins. Nine years later, he came back, and was a big part of the 1987 World Series champion.

"Kitty'' and "Tony O" will be inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame next Sunday in Cooperstown, N.Y. Blyleven made it in 2011, in his 14th year of trying to reach the required 75% on the baseball writers' ballot.

The two Dutch Masters of the Twins were united long ago on the mound at Met Stadium — and soon forever in that woodsy burgh in the middle of New York State.

By one vote

When the news came down on Dec. 5 that Kaat was among six new Hall of Famers voted in by veterans committees, the congratulatory calls started. One of the first came from Willa Allen, the widow of Dick Allen, the great slugger who had died a year earlier.

"Dick and I were very close when we were teammates with the White Sox," Kaat said. "He had that image, which had nothing to do with him as a person and a teammate. And Willa is just the greatest.

"Dick was on the ballot with us, and he had 11 votes — one short. I reminded Willa, 'You can only vote for four. If one ballot has Dick Allen and not me, then your husband is going in and I'm not.

"And Willa told me, 'I'm happy for you, Jim, and Dick would be happy for you, too.' "

'Citizen of the game'

Kaat is 83, and still stands all of that 6-4, and shot his age not long ago playing golf both his natural lefthanded and righthanded, and analyzes ballgames with the same clear voice and mind as when he started in a booth in 1986 with the Yankees.

After that, he did six seasons on Twins' telecasts, and returned for a long and highly paid run with the Yankees.

"I'm just getting started, doing play-by-play, and it's the eighth inning and Scooter [Phil Rizzuto] says to me, 'I'm going to the restroom,' " Kaat said. "A few minutes later, the producer says, 'Where's Scooter?'

"I tell him and he says, 'Well, he's gone. Wants to beat traffic.' "

Broadcasting, ballgames, golf courses … the Kaat stories are endless.

We still have the privilege of hearing him a few times per summer on Twins telecasts, and also on select Thursday nights with Bob Costas on the MLB Network.

"He's a treasure trove of tales,'' Costas said Friday. "He's still sharp as can be. And what makes it even easier is we've been friends for 40 years, when he was with the Cardinals and I was at KMOX [radio], and I would get Jim on as a guest.

"He is very touched by all of this … the jersey retirement, the Hall of Fame. He's a humble guy. He would tell me, 'I think I'm in the Hall of Very Good,' but pitching so well for so long has been rewarded.''

Costas paused and said: "And one other thing … 16 straight Gold Gloves.''

It was suggested to Costas that Kaat's excellence as a broadcaster could make him a worthy winner of the Ford Frick Award, which has honored broadcasters at the Hall of Fame since 1978.

Costas received the Frick Award in 2018. It has gone to a half-dozen former players turned broadcasters: Joe Garagiola, Bob Uecker, Jerry Coleman, Tony Kubek, Tim McCarver and Hawk Harrelson.

But there's never been an exacta: Hall of Famer and Frick winner.

"Jim's name has appeared on the ballot," Costas said. "He has a great sense as a partner. If I'm telling a story, Jim knows, 'This is going to take a couple of pitches,' and he'll wait to return serve. He doesn't have a huge ego about any of this."

Costas paused and then said: "I see it in the way baseball people react to Jim. His standing as a citizen of the game is tremendous."