Kaat Savoring Call To Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown
Jim Kaat's visit to Cooperstown this July will be extra special.
The Michigan native who first threw a big league pitch for the Washington Senators as a 21-year-old back in 1959, and called it a career at age 45 as a St. Louis Cardinal is officially baseball royalty. Last December the voting members of the Golden Days Era Committee elected Kaat, affectionately known among his peers at "Kitty", along with Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso, and former Minnesota Twins' teammate Tony Oliva as among the Hall of Fame's Class of 2022.
More than three decades have passed when Kaat was first eligible to be voted into the Hall.
The Golden Days Era (1950-'69) Committee's 16 voting members gets a say every five years, on whether or not ball players from their roster are deserving of at least 75% of their vote, and have their ticket punched to Cooperstown. Kaat, who has come close in past votes of receiving enough thumbs up to join other baseball immortals residing at 25 Main Street in the "Home of Baseball", appears to be keeping an even-keel about joining the game's ultimate fraternity.
"I understand the magnitude of it all," said Kaat during a recent telephone conversation of becoming a Hall of Famer. "I'm just taking it in stride. There are players that know they are going to get in (to the Hall of Fame). Me, I'm more grateful than excited."
As a member of the Class of 2022, besides being pulled from all angles for "just 10 minutes of his time" by media members, when in Cooperstown, giving his acceptance speech is priority one for Kaat. Four months out from his biggest performance before a baseball audience, and the three-time all-star is ready to deliver.
Kaat, 83, has his speech written.
Signed by the Senators back in June of 1957 as a free agent , says his official thank you to all who made his path to Cooperstown possible is trimmed to be 10-12 minutes. Sticking to such a limited time to review more than a half century in and around the game, this just might be easier said than done. Maybe.
With residences in Florida and Vermont, currently Kaat, along with his wife Margie, are on the road in Beaufort, South Carolina. While they enjoy their spring and summers in Bennington County ( about an hour's drive from Albany, New York) while basking in all the beauty of Vermont's Green Mountains, the Kaats are of the mind to sell in Florida. It's become "too busy". So far, all the good they've heard about Beaufort, remains inviting to investigate further.
While possibly exiting the "Sunshine State", with South Carolina leading in the mix, Kaat tells of not paying too much attention to the last couple of votes in his era.
"I wasn't a perennial number one or the all-star", states Kaat of his place in the pitching rotation for the clubs he played. "Fergie Jenkins, Robin Roberts, they were the guys with the numbers. "But, our numbers were were the same."
Having started three games of the the 1965 World Series for Minnesota against the Los Angeles Dodgers, celebrated as a St. Louis Cardinal winning the Series in 1982, it was a phone call from the Hall of Fame's Jane Forbes Clark - Chairman of the Board that capped Kaat's exciting ride in a lifetime of baseball this past December 5.
"I knew her voice immediately," explains Kaat of when the Hall's chairman calls. "I knew the drill. They (committee) give you a time frame of if the call is coming, when to expect it. About halfway through it, Jane called."
No stronger to Cooperstown, Kaat remembers visiting the Hall (and Central New York) for the first time in 1956, while a freshman at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. His roommate was from Herkimer (NY), roughly a thirty minute drive from Otsego County's most favorite tourist destination. When the great pitching sensation for the Philadelphia Athletics Lefty Grove was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1947, Kaat's father made the drive from Michigan to be on hand for induction ceremonies that summer.
"I remember being in (Cooperstown) for the Hall of Fame Game in 1966, when we (Twins) played the Cardinals at Doubleday Field," said Kaat of being in uniform in Cooperstown.
Along with the tens of thousands of baseball fans who will migrate to the grounds of the Clark Sports Center the weekend of July 24, the Kaat family will be well represented. Grandchildren, son-in-laws, cousins, these will be among the many faces that MLB Network TV cameras will center on, while "Kitty" addresses his public at the podium.
Congratulations continue to stream steadily to Kaat by his peers on joining baseball's elite team.
"Sandy Koufax congratulated me. He's someone I don't see all the time. I received a text from Derek (Hall of Famer Derek Jeter Class of 2020), Rollie (Hall of Famer Rollie Ringers Class of 1992), Bench (Hall of Famer Johnny Bench Class of 1989), and Eck (Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley Class of 2004). I received a nice call from Jim Thome (Hall of Famer Class of 2018),"said Kaat.
A conversation Kaat had with the late Philadelphia Phillies slugger Richie Allen's widow Willa shortly after receiving his green light to Cooperstown remains special.
Being in the same Hall of Fame Class of 2022 with his former Twins' teammate Oliva of 12 seasons, is going to make his July weekend in Cooperstown "extra special" for Kaat.
"When he first came up, Tony could barely get leather on the glove. Then he won a Gold Glove. We've been teammates and friends for so long. It's cool that we're going into the Hall together."
Fielding excellence is something synonymous with Kaat. 16 consecutive seasons he won a Gold Glove for his defensive skills as a pitcher.
One of 10 major leaguers to have played in 25 seasons or more, Kaat is in seventh place in this category, with Nolan Ryan at the top of the list with 27 seasons served.
As a child growing up in Zeeland, Michigan, with a population south of 6,000 residents, and a reach of just three square miles, the small town comfort for Kaat continues in the Village of Cooperstown, population less than 2,000 and the size of less than two square miles. So fitting.
Jim Kaat, welcome to your new home - Cooperstown.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.
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