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Jim Kaat: Hall of Famer?

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Now that Blyleven and Morris are in Cooperstown, what about this other guy?

Seattle Mariners v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Last Sunday, the Detroit Tigers retired #47 for new Hall of Famer Jack Morris. Tonight, the Twins will also honor their native son with a “Jack Morris HOF Night”.

Morris, of course, was voted into the Hall by the Veterans Committee (folksily known as the “Old Timers Committee”) instead of the traditional BBWA voting setup. More information about that process can be found here. I heard a rumor the other day (granted, one I cannot find any substantive evidence for) that former Twins pitching great Jim Kaat may be back on the Veterans ballot in a year or two (he was also included in 2015 but obviously not chosen).

To me, Kaat has a compelling case to be in Cooperstown, but one that requires a bit of digging to understand/interpret:

Based on the raw stats, Kaat is (much like Morris) the epitome of a “borderline candidate”. He has 283 wins, but those are stretched out over 25 big league seasons, producing a number of average campaigns. His career ERA (3.45) and WHIP (1.259) are both very solid, though not spectacular. According to Baseball Reference’s career Similarity Scores, his closest comps are Tommy John, Robin Roberts, & Fergie Jenkins. The first of that trio is another controversial Hall case (not in yet), while the latter two are in but could also be considered non slam-dunk entries.

Here would be my case, however, for why Kaat deserves to have a plaque hanging in the similar vicinity of Blyleven & Morris:

  • As I mentioned above, pitchers get “dinged” all the time for their longevity, but perhaps that can be looked at as a good thing?! Kaat entered the league with the Washington Senators in 1959 at age 20, and pitched until 1983 when he was 44 years of age. That seems incredible to me! Perusing all those seasons, there’s only one (‘77 with the Phillies) that could be described as “truly bad”. Sure, the stats generally dropped off as Kaat entered his 40s, but that is understandable. Even then, however, he was still basically an effective pitcher right to the end.
  • He won 16 consecutive Gold Glove awards from 1962-1977.
  • As a hitter, he was one of the more adept bat-handlers of his time, posting a career .185 BA with 16 HR, 44 doubles, and even 5 triples! Much like the Gold Glove awards, this speaks to his overall athleticism.
  • In his post-playing career, Kaat has made a name for himself nationally and with the Twins/Yankees organizations as a top-flight broadcaster. He has a great voice, and (as seen below) is able to thoughtfully discuss issues involving the game today. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with his takes, he definitely isn’t one of those “back in my day, when men were men” types...

To me, then, the HOF case for “Kitty” Kaat runs a bit deeper than the basic statistics of his playing career: He was a great (bordering on spectacular) pitcher for the better part of two decades, his hitting/fielding were highly above-average, and he’s been a great ambassador for the game through his broadcasting. If Morris can make it in based largely on being the dominant starter in the game for a relatively short window, perhaps Kaat can make it based on his longevity (both between and outside the white lines)?

Whether you saw Jim Kaat hurl the sphere in the flesh or know him from stats/stories (like myself), what are your thoughts on his HOF credentials?

Poll

If you were on the HOF Veterans Committee, would you vote for Jim Kaat?

This poll is closed

  • 91%
    Yes
    (179 votes)
  • 8%
    No
    (17 votes)
196 votes total Vote Now