…in honor of Jim Kaat.
The Veterans Committee of the Hall of Fame is going to take a look at Kaat this winter, so he may be a Hall of Famer soon. But whether the Veterans grant Kaat baseball’s ultimate honor or not, the Twins should do their part to recognize the lefthander who pitched for them for 13 seasons. Until the Twins retire this number, you can count on seeing regular diatribes from me about it!
I have no idea why the team did not retire Kaat’s number years ago. They managed not to give it to any other players for three seasons, but then in 1977 rookie Sam Perlozzo wore it. After him, Jeff Holly, Jerry Koosman, Jeff Little, Curt Wardle, Mark Portugal, Eric Bullock, Joe Niekro, Steve Shields, Kevin Tapani, Terry Steinbach, Rick Reed, Warren Morris, and Nathan have all had their turn with #36. Other than Nathan, and perhaps Tapani, none of them has come close to the level of success that Kaat enjoyed for more than a decade.
Kaat wore number 36 on the back of his Twins jersey from Minnesota’s 1961 debut season until he was claimed by the White Sox in August of 1973. During that time, he won 189 games, posted a 3.28 ERA, and took home 12 Gold Gloves in recognition of his excellent athletic ability on the mound. He also led the Twins to the World Series in 1965 and the playoffs in 1969 and 1970. He still leads the Twins in career wins, and only Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven has more strikeouts or complete games with the Twins (note: I am not counting the Washington Senators in these stats – if I did, Walter Johnson would lead in pretty much every category). For 12 straight seasons, Kaat piled up double digit wins, even in years where his team did not fare very well. He was not often among the elite pitchers in the American League, but he was always one of the good ones. His extended record of quality service to his team warrants recognition.
Some people may argue that the Twins should retire number 36 for Joe Nathan. I think you could make a good argument for that, but it is one that should wait. We won’t be able to fully judge Nathan’s Twins career until time provides some perspective. A few years down the road, after Nathan has retired, it might be worth looking into that. By the way, there is precedent for retiring the same number twice. The Yankees have retired number 8 for Bill Dickey and for Yogi Berra. The Cubs retired 31 for Greg Maddux and Ferguson Jenkins. The Reds retired number 5 for Johnny Bench and Warren Hershberger, and the former Expos retired #10 for both Rusty Staub and Andre Dawson.
But regardless of the merits of Nathan’s case, Kaat’s is very strong. The Twins should act this offseason, because Kaat’s appearance on the Veterans Committee ballot puts his name back in the spotlight. Next spring, there may be a temptation to give it out to one of the plethora of relief pitchers auditioning for a spot on the team, and that would be a shame.
If you agree with me, I urge you to spread the word and let the Twins know how you feel in any way possible. For starters, you can e-mail the Twins to provide feedback about Kaat. If you’re on Twitter, please Tweet your thoughts about Kaat and ask others to do the same.