Kaat takes his place in the hallowed Hall

July 24th, 2022

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The wait is finally over. Thirty-nine years after he played his final big league game, Jim Kaat is a Hall of Famer. He was inducted on Sunday, seven months after the Golden Days Era Committee made him a baseball immortal. 

Kaat, 83, acknowledged that he was more nervous before reaching the podium, moreso than when he was pitching in the 1965 World Series against the Dodgers. But Kaat was smooth and charismatic on the podium, delivering a speech lasted a little over 11 minutes. Kaat was concise when talking about his love for the game of baseball. 

It started when his father, Jack, took him to his first baseball game on June 26, 1946 -- a doubleheader between the Tigers and Red Sox. What impressed Jim that day was the green grass at Briggs Stadium and the white uniforms worn by both teams. 

“My little 7-year-old brain said, ‘I want to be one of those guys,’” Kaat said. “From that day forward, all I wanted to [do] was be a baseball player.”

Kaat was even philosophical when talking about his induction. The day after receiving the call that he had been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Kaat was listing to Ray Charles’ rendition of "America The Beautiful." Charles was singing the line, “God shed his grace on thee.” Kaat thought about the people who are less fortunate. 

“It reminded me, God has shed his grace on me extravagantly,” Kaat said. “We have a world with millions of people who are disadvantaged, oppressed, wake up daily to pain and suffering. I am able to live, and still am, a comfortable life for over 83 years. I had great parents, grew up in a great community in Michigan. I was gifted with the ability to play baseball and I’m grateful for that.”

Now that Kaat is in the Hall of Fame, he would like to see fellow left-hander Tommy John enter the Hall. John won 288 games, 164 after the elbow reconstruction procedure now named in his honor.

“I think it’s a travesty that Tommy is not [in the Hall of Fame],” Kaat said. “Is there any pitcher more famous than Tommy John? He won more games after surgery than before the surgery.”

Kaat’s career off the charts

When one thinks of Kaat, the word “durability” comes to mind -- this is a guy, after all, whose Major League career spanned parts of four decades. Only three other players in AL/NL history -- Willie McCovey, Minnie Miñoso (who was also inducted Sunday) and Tim McCarver -- did the same in the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s.

Over the course of his career, Kaat went from being a top-notch starter to a quality reliever. As a starter, he recorded three 20-win seasons (and led the AL in wins in 1966, with 25) and often was among the league leaders in innings pitched. He had 14 seasons of 200 innings or more, twice eclipsing the 300 mark.

In 1973, when Kaat's time with the Twins ended, it looked as though he was finished as a starter. But the White Sox selected him off waivers and he had a resurgence, landing among the league leaders in innings pitched and twice winning 20 games (1974 and '75).

It helped that Kaat was reunited with pitching coach Johnny Sain. Kaat was a fastball-slider-changeup pitcher when he joined the White Sox, and he added to his repertoire.

“When he came to the White Sox, Johnny Sain helped him, because he didn’t have much of a curveball,” said former White Sox teammate Hank Allen. “Sain helped him develop his curveball, and he worked with him. Jim was able to use that curveball and it worked for him, and that prolonged his career. He was able to develop another pitch for opponents to think about.”

Furthermore, Kaat was one of the best fielding pitchers in baseball history, with 16 Gold Gloves to his name.

By the time his playing career ended, Kaat had a bWAR of 50.5, higher than that of Hall of Famer Bob Lemon (48.2). Lemon won 207 games during his 13 years in the big leagues.

When Kaat hit the podium on Sunday, he was thinking about his father who, according to Jim, had a master's degree in discipline.

“He knew how to administer it. I didn’t see the value in discipline until I got into adulthood,” Jim said. “I don’t know if I’m there … but I’m getting there.”

Ironically, Jack Kaat first went to the Hall of Fame in 1947 to watch his own baseball hero be inducted.

“My parents drove to Cooperstown so my dad could see his favorite player, Lefty Grove, inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Kaat told MLB.com recently. “My dad was such an avid baseball fan. … My dad wasn’t an emotional guy, but this [current moment] would be pretty cool for him.

“From the time I was 8 years old, I thought about being a baseball player. We didn’t have Pac-Man or Fortnite. We played baseball trivia. I was asked this question [by my dad]. Before the words got out of his mouth, [the answer] was Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner.

"They were the first five inductees in the Hall of Fame. I’ve known that since I was 8. My dad was the one that piqued my interest in the game of baseball.”

Following his playing career, Kaat became a beloved broadcaster, calling games for the Yankees and Twins for 22 seasons before retiring in 2006. He returned to call games for the World Baseball Classic in 2009 and currently calls games for MLB Network.