THOMA COLUMN | Validating the memories of Minnesota boomers

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Jul. 25—I carry three specific memories from the first major league game I ever attended:

The startling beauty of the green grass as we entered the second deck behind home plate at Metropolitan Stadium.

The odd out that ended the top of the seventh inning — a strikeout that resulted in the batter caught in a rundown between third and home, eventually to be tagged out by the left fielder.

The marvelous elegance of Jim Kaat's pitching motion.

Pretty much everything else about that game — April 25, 1970 — I have to look up. (Which is easy to do with Baseball Reference.)

I do not specifically remember Harmon Killebrew's game-winning single in the ninth. Nor do I remember the Al Kaline error that set up that winning run. Nor do I remember that the run was scored by Tony Oliva, who had two hits on the day.

Those images have faded with the passage of more than a half-century. The ones that remain from that game — well, they are part of what made me the baseball addict that I am.

Kaat, Kaline, Killebrew, Oliva. With Sunday's induction ceremony, all four have plaques in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. (Another Hall of Famer, Rod Carew, did not appear in the game.)

I have written before about the Hall of Fame candidacies of Kaat and Oliva. It took a long time for them to get in, and in Minnesota, it is conventional wisdom that the decades of exclusion was particularly unfair to Oliva.

Intellectual honesty, however, requires me to note that both Oliva and Kaat are rather marginal inductees. That, to be sure, applies to almost any player selected through the veterans committee process, since the writers get to cherry-pick the best of the best.

I've noted this before, but it bears repeating: Oliva's candidacy is based on his short-term brilliance, 1964 though 1971. His repeated knee problems shortened his career and deprived him of the career totals the writers have long demanded of hitters.

Kaat had the opposite problem. He had the career totals (283 career wins), but he lacked a period in which he was truly dominant — and for pitchers, that seems to be required by the writers.

Kaat's candidacy suffered from bad timing. The Cy Young Award was inaugurated in 1956, and through 1966, was limited to one pitcher. Kaat won 25 games in 1966, but the Cy Young went, deservedly, to Sandy Koufax.

The next season they started giving two awards, one for each league. Had there been two awards in 1966, Kaat would likely have won the AL version — and adding that line to his resume would have mattered when he was on the writers' ballot.

Oliva's election is, in a sense, precedent-setting. He is the first position player from the expansion era to be chosen with fewer than 2,000 career hits. (I expect the writers will ignore that informal barricade when Buster Posey becomes eligible.)

There are those who believe that the Hall of Fame is too big, with 340 inductees. There are times when I lean toward that view. I can certainly list a dozen or so honorees I doubt would be missed if their plaques were removed.

But there is genuine value in a "big Hall," a benefit to the game in having the likes of Oliva and Harold Baines, and Kaat and Jesse Haines, side by side with the likes of Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Henry Aaron and Satchel Paige.

Kaat and Oliva were foundational pieces of major league baseball in Minnesota. Twins fans of my era treasure the memories of their play and presence and have passed that on to the following generations. Their new presence in the plaque room at Cooperstown further validates that history.

Multiply that by Gil Hodges and Minnie Minoso, by Bud Fowler and Buck O'Neil, and the sport is further enhanced by its history.

Edward Thoma is at ethoma@mankatofreepress.com. Twitter: @bboutsider.