Jim Kaat should be in the Hall of Fame. He won 261 games in 18 seasons as a starting pitcher, then re-invented himself for five seasons and 22 more victories as an effective lefthanded reliever.

He continues to hold the record for winning 16 consecutive Gold Gloves (1962-1977) as a fielder. He was a worthy hitter, finishing his career with 16 home runs and 106 RBI.

He was 25-13 and pitched 304 2/3 innings for the Twins in 1966. That would have earned him a Cy Young Award, except it was the final year when a single Cy Young covered both leagues, and Sandy Koufax went 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA in his last season with the Dodgers.

Even if the baseball writers were correct in failing to elect Kaat in his 15 years on the players ballot, he assuredly deserves a place in the Cooperstown, N.Y., museum as a winner of the Ford Frick Award for baseball broadcasting.

Kaat did both analysis and play-by-play in 21 years on television, with the Twins, with CBS, and for his final 13 seasons (1994-2006) with the Yankees. There never has been a broadcaster to tell you more about the game than Kaat, and there's never been a former player with less need to talk about himself during a broadcast.

The Yankees rewarded Kaat for his excellence with generous pay, but they were unable to talk him out of retirement after the 2006 season. He went home to Stuart, Fla., and started making plans with his wife, Mary Ann, to see the country in their Itasca-Meridian model Winnebago.

"We left Florida at the end of May and didn't get back until the middle of November," Kaat said. "We traveled 10,400 miles through 27 states, with stops at 60 different golf courses and twice as many art galleries.

"Mary Ann doesn't golf, so she brushes the cats while I'm playing golf, and then I pay her back by visiting art galleries.

"We hit every state where we have relatives. We saw every brother, sister, son, daughter, grandchild, niece and nephew we could find."

A reporter called Kaat's cell phone this summer wanting to talk about the Twins' involvement in the American League's Great Race of 1967. Kaat returned the call from Ten Sleep, Wyo., a town in the Big Horn Mountains.

What did the Kaats learn about America?

"I know it's fashionable for retired people to get on a plane, fly to Europe, then come home and talk about how great Rome is," Kaat said. "To each his own, but I'd say to those people, 'You don't know what you're missing -- the scenery, the beautiful little towns, the great people -- by not hitting the highways and seeing this country."

And that earlier comment about 60 golf courses: "That was different courses, not rounds of golf. For instance, I played the San Diego Country Club six times."

His stops included Sutton Bay, the golf course and hunting and fishing lodge in the middle of nowhere in South Dakota. "Spectacular," he said.

He was pumping gas in Sundance, Wyo., one afternoon when a man fueling his vehicle a few feet away said, "They are talking about you on the air."

Kaat looked and the man added: "Yeah, I know who are. I watch YES [the Yankees cable TV station]. And Michael Kay and Paul O'Neill were talking about you, saying, 'Jim Kaat's probably playing golf in Montana right now.'''

The Kaats returned to their beachfront home in Stuart a month ago. He played in a golf event Thursday, another Friday, so he wasn't able to closely monitor all of the dramatic events in baseball's steroids scandal.

"I'm sure a lot of people are surprised," Kaat said. "I can't say I am. I remember back in 1988, I was broadcasting with the Twins, and Puck [Kirby Puckett] was always on me to go out with him.

"One night I went along, and I was sitting there with Puck and Shane Mack. We were talking about players and I said, 'How did that guy get so big?' And Puck and Shane both said, 'Oh, he's juicin'.'

"When I was in the game, we cheated by scuffing balls, corking bats and there were greenies [amphetamines] all over the place, but juicin' was new to me.

"That's almost 20 years ago. For that long, people knew something was going on, and it wasn't until recently that they started dealing with it.

"I blame the teams, and I blame the union. There's plenty of blame for both."

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • preusse@startribune.com