Hi there, friends!
In case you’ve been living under a rock or really don’t care about Twins history, news broke late last week that our beloved Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat (both aged 83) made it into the Hall of Fame. And you know what? It’s about goddamn time.
When you finally get the call! ❤️ pic.twitter.com/lU7sbbsuU0— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) December 5, 2021
I was born too late to have ever seen either of these guys play, but as a properly raised Twins fan, I was well aware of their badassery and impact on the team from a young age. My dad’s favorite players growing up were Harmon Killebrew and Jim Kaat, so I knew what an outrage it was that Kaat and Oliva weren’t elected to the hall. I know how Kitty Kaat was in the league spanning FOUR decades (1959 - 1983). I know that he was the AL Pitcher of the year and would have won the Cy Young award in 1965 if they handed it out for both NL and AL teams (he lost it to Sandy Koufax, and that was the last year that it was only given to one pitcher in all of MLB rather than for both leagues). I know that he earned 16 consecutive Gold Gloves over his 25 seasons, trailing only the great HOF Greg Maddux by two gilded mitts. Why am I so hung up on his golden gloving? Because if you look at the list of the all time GG winners, the top 10 (or so) goes like this:
- Greg Maddux (18), HOF
- Jim Kaat (16)
- Brooks Robinson (16) HOF
- Ivan Rodriguez (13) HOF
- Ozzie Smith (13) HOF
- Roberto Clemente (12) HOF
- Omar Vizquel (11) (not yet HOF, but still on the ballot hovering around 50% of the vote)
- Keith Hernandez (11) (fell off the ballot in 2004 after 9 years)
- Willie Mays (11) HOF
- Ichiro (not yet eligible), Andruw Jones (still on the ballot), Ken Griffey Jr. HOF, Roberto Alomar HOF, Mike Schmidt HOF, Johnny Bench HOF (all with 10).
It’s safe to say that if you’re that good at your position, you belong in the Hall of Fame.
As for Tony Oliva, I know all about how he was the first player in history to win batting titles in his first two seasons (and then he won his third in 1971). I know how he was an All Star 8 times, including in his rookie season (where, if you’ll remember he also was the AL Rookie of the Year). I also know how injuries derailed his trajectory of being called to the Hall, and it took forty-five effing years from his last game to get him into his rightful place in Cooperstown. (For the record, Tony only has one Gold Glove, but his other accolades are plenty badass).
Not only were they amazing on the field, but they’re both fixtures in Twins Territory and in Minnesota (and national) media. Kaat broadcasted games for many teams over the years (and won quite a few Emmys for doing so), and also fills in quite a bit for commentary on Twins games. Tony does the Spanish-language games on the radio.
They’re both all-around good humans. And on a personal note, every encounter I’ve ever had with Tony O. has left me with the warm fuzzies. Two quick stories to share here. One: I was at the Mall of America with my kids when they were 3 and 4 years old. I noticed Tony standing near me looking around, and he noticed me with my zero chill trying to hide my giddiness that I was standing near a Twins legend. He came over to me, said hello to my kids, and asked me where the sunglasses store was, and thanked me when I pointed him in the right direction, and also told him I was a big fan. Two: I was on an elevator at Target Field and it was just me and him and the elevator operator. I asked if I could maybe get a pic with him. When we were off the elevator, we took our picture, and when other people walking by realized it was him, he graciously smiled and took pics with every.single.one. of those fans — and was legitimately happy to be doing so.
One thing that’s really sticking with me with Tony’s belated call to Cooperstown, however, is how it might be a glimpse into another beloved Minnesota player’s future fate. You see, Tony’s injuries forced him into the DH spot, and his hitting was just average for the last five seasons of his career. Average is still just fine, but when you go from a perpetual All Star to a DH that doesn’t get big hits? Well, apparently that diminishes your Hall of Fame chances by enough to have to wait 45 years.
Hmm. Injuries forcing a 3 time batting champ super star into a new role where he doesn’t have the same impact. That sounds so familiar....
Yeah, I’m looking at you, baby Jesus Mauer.
Any Minnesota fan will tell you that our MVP catcher, who was the only catcher in AL history to win the batting championship, and only catcher in history to do it THREE (!!!) TIMES belongs in the Hall. Any non-Minnesota fan will tell you that sure, he was a badass behind the plate, but he was just a so-so first baseman after he was forced to put away his catchers gear. And it makes me wonder.. will Joe have to wait for the Golden Days Era Committee to let him in sometime in 2060-ish? Please. No.
But this isn’t about Joe right now. It’s really about me giving a very, very long overdue round of applause to two Minnesota legends.
Congratulations, Mr. Oliva and Mr. Kaat! Your patience, grace, and badassery are the stuff of legends.
PS. The next travesty that the Old Timey guys need to remedy? Pete Rose belongs in Cooperstown. But that’s a whole different article.