Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat, Twins wait to hear duo's Hall of Fame fate

·6 min read

Dec. 3—One vote.

Tony Oliva has been through this before, all the excitement, all the nerves, all the anticipation of waiting to find out if he would be enshrined in in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And the last time, it was to fall short by only one vote.

Two Twins greats — Oliva and pitcher Jim Kaat — will have their Hall of Fame candidacy considered on Sunday by the Golden Days Era Committee for the first time since 2014 when Oliva just barely missed out and Kaat fell two votes short of getting the necessary 75 percent of votes.

This time around, there is much optimism, especially for Oliva after his near-miss. Ten players will be considered by the 16-member committee, which is made up of Hall of Famers (including Rod Carew), major-league executives and longtime media members/historians.

The results will be announced live on MLB Network at 5 p.m. CT, and any player elected would be inducted into the Hall of Fame next July.

"I think both of these men are deserving of the opportunity to be enshrined in Cooperstown but at the end of the day, I've spoken to both of them, and I think they're both at peace either way," Twins president and CEO Dave St. Peter said.

CASE FOR OLIVA

This, all of this, is way more than Tony Oliva could have imagined.

"I never dreamed I'd be able to come here and play baseball," said Oliva, a native of Cuba. "I never dreamed I was able to do all this stuff that I did here. I never dreamed the Minnesota Twins, they'd have a statue in front of the stadium of me."

He never dreamed of a Hall of Fame induction, either.

But now it's so close, and Oliva, 83, has compelling credentials.

Oliva, a right fielder, established himself in 1964, winning the American League Rookie of the Year award. He finished the year leading the league in batting average (.323), hits (217), runs scored (109), doubles (43) and total bases (374). He hit 32 home runs in his rookie year.

He was an eight-time all-star, twice finished second in Most Valuable Player voting, won three batting titles and finished his 15-year career as a .304 hitter.

Following his playing career, Oliva became a coach, and was on the Twins' coaching staff when the club won the World Series in 1987 and 1991. Oliva remains in the organization to this day.

"He's just such an ambassador," St. Peter said. "Tony has been so involved, not just as a player, as a coach, but also as a face of our franchise in the community and at our ballpark. In so many ways, he's synonymous with Twins baseball."

Should he be elected on Sunday, St. Peter predicted there would be an unprecedented number of Minnesotans taking the trip to Cooperstown next summer.

But whether or not he gets the call, Oliva is proud of what he accomplished.

"If I have good news, it'll be beautiful," Oliva said. "If I have bad news, well, it'll be beautiful too. It won't be the same, but you know something? I'm very happy one way or another. I'm very happy that I've been able to achieve everything I was able to achieve."

CASE FOR KAAT

Monday morning, a Hall-of-Famer-to-be or not, will be the same for Jim Kaat, 83. Either way, a trip to the first tee for Kaat, who lives in Florida, is on tap.

Kaat, like Oliva, has been through this many times before. Getting into the Hall of Fame, he said, would be "the ultimate honor as a baseball player." But at this point, he said, his curiosity about the voting is gone and he's more cynical about his chances.

"I would be much more surprised if I did get in than if I didn't, so it won't be an anxious or stressful time for me," Kaat said. "If I get the call, obviously it would be very nice."

Kaat's career spanned 25 seasons, beginning in 1959 and concluding in 1983. He has 283 career wins to his name, a 3.45 career earned-run average and was a three-time all-star.

Kaat was a 16-time Gold Glove Award winner in his career, which began in Washington with the Senators. He played for the Senators/Twins between 1959-1973.

"I've been through (Hall of Fame voting) a few times and I kind of understand the reason from a baseball standpoint. I was never really a No. 1, perennial No. 1 starter like, say, Jack (Morris) was," Kaat said. "I was always kind of a No. 2 guy, and I think the Hall of Fame rewards dominance over durability, and so from a baseball standpoint, I'm at peace about that."

His broadcast partner over the years — Kaat's broadcasting career continues to this day — believes he has the credentials for enshrinement both on the field and behind the mic.

"He's unique in that I think he's got qualifications to be in the Hall of Fame as a player and also as a broadcaster, and I don't know how many people you can say that about," longtime Twins broadcaster Dick Bremer said. "Twenty-five years, somebody was writing out a check for him to get big-league hitters out. To me, that might be more impressive than the 283 wins."

'PINS AND NEEDLES'

Throughout his career, Bremer has had plenty of chances to talk and listen to Hall of Famers. When he asks for insight, they've told him, Bremer said, that they believe both Oliva and Kaat belong in Cooperstown.

Bremer is "very, very hopeful" about the duo's chances and believes there would be a nice welcoming party from their peers should they make it.

"To me, they've always been Hall of Fame players, and I know it's a very restrictive club," Bremer said. "We know that of the Halls of Fame, it's the toughest to get into, but I just believe that they're both Hall of Fame players. If you watch enough baseball, I think you know who a Hall of Fame player is, and I believe both of them are."

St. Peter describes himself as hopeful, too, and anxious, as the Twins wait to see whether Oliva and Kaat can find another vote or two among the 16-person committee.

"They've done what they can do both on the field and the way that they've conducted themselves off the field," St. Peter said. "Sunday's a big day for our organization. We're obviously kind of sitting on pins and needles waiting."