MINNEAPOLIS — Jim Kaat will be the first to tell you that he was never a consistently ace-caliber pitcher, the likes of which are usually inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He said as much on Sunday, many times over, and it seemed he’d come to terms with that.
“I really tried to have the Hall of Fame in my rearview mirror,” Kaat said.
Still, there’s plenty to be said for the seemingly limitless consistency and longevity that led to Kaat pitching in four decades and made him one of five pitchers in AL/NL history to pitch in 25 or more seasons — and that much was recognized at last on Sunday, when Kaat was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2022 by the Golden Days Era Committee.
“I really didn’t think this day would ever come,” Kaat said. “It comes as more of a gift to me, and I’m so appreciative of the guys that I played with and against that I think rewarded durability and dependability along with dominance, which the Hall of Fame usually rewards — rightly so.”
Kaat is due to be officially inducted in Cooperstown on July 24, 2022, where he’ll be joined by longtime Twins teammate Tony Oliva, who was also selected by the Golden Days Era Committee on Sunday. That committee also elected Gil Hodges and Minnie Miñoso, while the Early Baseball Era Committee selected Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil to the Class of 2022.
Though Kaat also spent parts of his 25-year career with the White Sox, Phillies, Yankees and Cardinals — with whom he won a World Series in 1982 — the left-hander confirmed on Sunday that he plans to represent the Twins on his plaque in Cooperstown. He and Oliva will become the fifth and sixth players to enter the Hall of Fame as Twins, joining Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett and Bert Blyleven, who served as a member of the Golden Days Era Committee.
“The added happiness I have is I get to share it with my teammate Tony Oliva, who I have known for so long since he came up as a kid and developed into a Gold Glove outfielder,” Kaat said. “For us Minnesota Twins, it’s going to be a great summer.”
In all his years of pitching, Kaat never led the league in ERA and made only three All-Star teams — one of which came in 1966, when he led the American League in wins for the only time in his career, with 25. Still, he quietly took the mound every fourth day year after year, accumulating a 3.45 career ERA in 898 appearances while making 30 or more starts in 12 seasons.
He was part of the 1965 Twins rotation alongside Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry and Camilo Pascual that led Minnesota to its first American League pennant. He made three starts in that World Series against the Dodgers, all opposite future Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, winning Game 2 and losing Games 5 and 7.
Across parts of 15 seasons with the Twins, four with the Phillies, four with the Cardinals, three with the White Sox and two with the Yankees, his 625 starts rank 16th in AL/NL history — and sixth among left-handers — while his 4,530 1/3 innings pitched rank 22nd, with 19 of the players ahead of him already enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
“‘Kitty’ has made an indelible impact on our organization and our fans, from the 15 years he spent with the Twins/Senators franchise to his time in the broadcast booth,” Twins president Dave St. Peter said in a statement.
At the time of Kaat’s retirement in 1983, he held the AL/NL record for most seasons pitched in the Majors, a mark since matched by Charlie Hough and Jamie Moyer and surpassed only by Nolan Ryan (27 seasons) and Tommy John (26). He remains the Twins’ all-time leader in wins (189) and innings pitched (2,959 1/3).
“I was never going to be that dominant, but I can take pride in saying that I never really missed a start because of an arm injury,” Kaat said. “I slid into second and broke my wrist in ’72. That cost me maybe half of the season I was having. And then I pinch-ran in ’76 and hit third base and cracked my kneecap. Two baserunning injuries hurt my career, but I always took pride in saying I want the ball every four days.”
One counting stat — if you could call it that — in which Kaat did excel was his steady accumulation of Gold Glove Awards. He earned 16 in all, in consecutive seasons from 1962-77, matching Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson and trailing only Greg Maddux.
Though Kaat fell two votes shy of inclusion on both the 2011 and ’14 Golden Days Era Committee ballots, he finally made up those final votes to get to the magic number on his third try, at age 83, to put the crowning achievement he never expected to earn on a baseball life that has already seen him earn seven Emmy Awards for his lengthy tenure in the broadcast booth following the conclusion of his playing career.
“You have to have the right people on that committee, and to get 12 out of 16 is difficult,” Kaat said. “You’re relying on who in the committee is going to be able to speak on your behalf and prove to the other people that they think you’re Hall of Fame-worthy.”
He’ll no longer have to prove himself to anyone, his spot finally secure forever in Cooperstown.