The Cooperstown Case for Jim Kaat

MLB careers don’t always last long. A study of the 20th century found that a rookie ballplayer could expect to play only 5.6 years in the big leagues.

That’s not how it went for legendary pitcher Jim Kaat.

He played 25 seasons in Major League Baseball. Yes, you read that right. A quarter of a century. Yet despite all the accomplishments accrued in his 25 years, he remains a Hall of Fame snub (in the eyes of many). So, on this edition of The Cooperstown Case, we will be looking at the case for Kaat.

Kaat made his debut on August 2, 1959, for the Washington Senators (now known as the Minnesota Twins). He became a full-fledged starter in 1961 when the Senators moved to Minnesota, becoming the Twins.

A few years into his career, he helped lead the Twins to the 1965 World Series by posting an 18-11 record, then started games 2, 5 and 7 of the series against the Dodgers, going 1-2 with a 3.77 ERA as Minnesota fell in seven games.

It was the following year that Kaat had his best season in his long career. He went 25-13, leading the American League in complete games (19) and innings pitched (304.2) en route to a fifth-place finish in the AL Most Valuable Player Award vote. In 1967, Kaat went 16-13, nearly leading the Twins to another trip to the World Series but ultimately falling just short.

After leaving the Twins, Kaat found success with the Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies, and he joined the St. Louis Cardinals in 1980. In 1982, he was effective out of the bullpen, and went 5-3 with two saves to help the Cardinals win the World Series 4-3 over the Milwaukee Brewers.

He retired after the 1983 season, and afterwards embarked on a long career as a professional broadcaster, during which he won seven Emmy Awards for excellence in sports broadcasting. Currently, he serves as a special assistant to the Twins.

Kaat ranks 31st all-time in wins (283), and had a 3.45 ERA. He notched 180 complete games and ranks in the top 20 in games started (625). He also won 16 Gold Glove Awards. A three-time All-Star, Kaat also is one of 27 pitchers in baseball history to pitch 4,500 innings. Of those 27, 22 of them are in the Hall of Fame.

He also played during the administrations of seven presidents spanning from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan. He was the first player to reach that mark. Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan later reached this mark in 1993, the first year of the administration of Bill Clinton (Ryan played an MLB-record 27 seasons, just two more than Kaat). He is also one of just 29 players in baseball history to play in four different decades.

In 2015, Kaat fell just two votes short of being inducted into Cooperstown by the Veterans Committee. It’s the closest he’s been to induction to date.

However, during an interview with The Sporting News, Kaat shared his thoughts on not being inducted into the Hall of Fame just yet: “I got to be honest with you, I don’t spend much time thinking about it,” Kaat said. “I don’t think deeply about it. There’s no question it’s a great honor, but as I said when we started [this interview], I’ve been down this road so many times before that I really, my cynicism runneth over.”

It remains to be seen if the 81-year old will finally get his call to Cooperstown.


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