Twins celebrate Kaat, Oliva's HOF elections

December 7th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- If the Twins are already celebrating their two new members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame like this, just imagine what things will be like on July 24, 2022, when Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat will officially be enshrined in Cooperstown -- with a massive contingent from the Upper Midwest likely there to cheer them on.

The day after the Golden Days Era Committee elected both Oliva and Kaat to the Hall of Fame, much of the Twins family -- from staffers and executives to club legends -- piled into the press conference room in the lower levels of Target Field on Monday to celebrate, at last, two more of their own cementing their legacies on one of the more meaningful days in the history of the Minnesota Twins.

The 2022 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place on July 24 in Cooperstown. This year’s ballot was released by the BBWAA on Nov. 22, and voters have until Dec. 31 to submit their ballots. Election results will be announced live on MLB Network on Jan. 25, 2022.

"Yesterday was a great day to be a Twin, a tremendous day in the history of our franchise, a momentous day for our state," Twins president and CEO Dave St. Peter said.

"The Twins could not be more proud to have these two men sporting our beloved 'TC' on their caps in Cooperstown. In our view, both Tony and Jim have been Hall of Famers for a long, long time, but yesterday’s news gives us all an excuse to throw a really big party in Cooperstown in July."

That festive mood already permeated the Twins family on Monday, when Hall of Famers and hometown icons Paul Molitor and Jack Morris were in attendance to express their congratulations to two of the newest members of their fraternity. Other important figures from Twins history, such as former manager Tom Kelly, former general manager Bill Smith, Justin Morneau, Tim Laudner and Kent Hrbek, looked on from the crowd.

The Twins also made sure that their other living representatives in Cooperstown -- Rod Carew and Bert Blyleven -- could take part by hosting them on Zoom to share their stories and congratulations ahead of Oliva and Kaat becoming the fifth and sixth players to enter Cooperstown as Minnesota Twins.

"All-Minnesota guys, and it’s documented," Carew said. "How much can you say about Jim Kaat and say about Tony Oliva? Tony, I know for one, is the same person that he was in 1965 when I met him at Yankee Stadium -- humble and humble to this day. Jim, you’re a great guy. I love you guys."

Oliva and Kaat had been waiting for this election since they were first on the Golden Days Era ballot in 2011, and, as Monday's celebration and the immense outpouring on social media from fans have showed, their selection as the first pair of Minnesota Twins to enter the Hall of Fame in the same class made for an incredibly significant day for countless fans across the Upper Midwest who longed to see this day for decades.

Kaat was an original Minnesota Twin -- a member of that 1961 roster that first brought Major League Baseball to the Upper Midwest -- and helped to anchor the '65 rotation that brought Minnesota its first American League pennant, as he spent 15 of his 25 big league seasons with the Twins.

In addition to winning seven Emmy Awards as a broadcaster following the conclusion of his playing career, Kaat played an important role in founding the Bob Allison Ataxia Research Center at the University of Minnesota, which remains a core partner for the Twins' charitable efforts every year.

Oliva has been a lifelong member of the organization as a player, coach and ambassador from the day he first donned the Twins' uniform as a player in 1962, through his two World Series championships as a coach in '87 and '91, to the present day, when he still regales fans with stories and photos at Spring Training and at Target Field alongside his continued duties as a Spanish language radio broadcaster and special assistant to the front office.

"Tony is arguably the greatest ambassador our franchise has ever had," St. Peter said. "His connection with fans across Twins Territory is second to none. He is absolutely tops on the list in Twins games played for and attended, in autographs signed. I’m not sure there’s anybody in the state of Minnesota that does not have at least two Tony Oliva autographs."

And as the community around Oliva celebrated his long-awaited inclusion in the Hall of Fame, he made sure to express his love and affection for the state that has become home to him in the long years since he left his family in the Cuban countryside to establish his own legacy here, thousands of miles away.

"I think I’ve been in the Hall of Fame all my life," Oliva said. "It’s the truth. Playing here in Minnesota, having the best family in the world. I have a good family. I think about the way I feel about the people in Minnesota, the fans in Minnesota, and how the Minnesota Twins built me a statue in front of the stadium.

"To be here in Minnesota and have those great people around me, and my family, that is what is more important for me."

As St. Peter heard that testament to the Minnesota community and Oliva extended an arm to affectionately grab his shoulder, the Twins' president, himself a native of Bismarck, N.D., choked up and wiped tears from his eyes.

"It's been an emotional 24 hours," St. Peter said. "This is a family. Our organization prides itself on that, and it started with two of these men. ... It means the world to our organization, to our employees and obviously, to our fans."