Shantz, 96, never coached Kaat, but during his formative years in Michigan, Kaat watched Shantz extensively while the latter was playing for such teams as the Philadelphia Athletics and New York Yankees, winning eight Gold Gloves during his career (1949-64). Shantz's best year was 1952, when he won the American League MVP Award as a member of the Athletics.
“Growing up in a small town in Michigan, I could listen to eight games on a Sunday afternoon,” Kaat said. “When I would listen to the White Sox broadcast, Bobby Shantz was pitching [for the Athletics], and the announcer would say, ‘Here’s Bobby Shantz, the best fielding pitcher in baseball. He finishes on the balls of his feet. He is being square to the hitter. He is ready to go -- left or right.’
“I would [then] go to the backyard with a tennis ball and practice like Shantz [for hours]. When I got to Spring Training in my first year [with the Senators], I’m going through pitching drills and the coach said, ‘Kid, you look like Bobby Shantz.’ I said, 'Thank you very much.'”
The last time Kaat saw Shantz was three years ago, when he presented him with the Legacy Award at the Rawlings Gold Gloves dinner.
“I was telling the audience, ‘How often does an 80-year-old get to present an award to his boyhood idol, who is 93?’ He is the reason I learned to field my position,” Kaat said. “He did have a fall [recently], and I’m hoping that if he is able, the young man that looks after him can drive him to my induction. That would really be a treat.”