Jim Kaat, the winningest pitcher in Twins history, promised to show up in Cooperstown next July in order to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. That gives him eight months to convince himself that he belongs there.
Kaat was remarkably humble Sunday when he was elected, 38 years after he retired, into baseball's pantheon by a 16-member committee that judged his 25-year, five-team, 283-victory career worthy of enshrinement.
"I really didn't think this day would ever come," said Kaat, who came to Minnesota with the Senators in 1961 and spent 13 seasons in a Twins uniform. "I mean, I know I'm not in the same class with Sandy [Koufax] and Juan Marichal and Gibby [Bob Gibson] and [Tom] Seaver, and on and on. But I'm grateful they recognized the accomplishments over a long period of time."
And therein lies Kaat's greatest strength: Durability.
Only 16 other pitchers in baseball history started more games than Kaat, who remains the Twins' all-time leader in wins (190), losses (152), innings (2,959), starts (422) and walks (694). That's why, though he also pitched for the White Sox, Philies, Yankees and won a World Series with the Cardinals in 1982, Kaat didn't hesitate when asked what logo he would prefer to be wearing on the plaque that will be displayed in Cooperstown.
"The Twins, no question," Kaat said. "I was in that organization [counting his years with the Senators] for 16 years. … That's the team I'd want to be identified with."
He has been for many years, and even now at 83, still serves as Dick Bremer's partner on a handful of Twins broadcasts every year. But in the team's first decade in Minnesota, Kaat was the stabilizer on the Twins staff at Metropolitan Stadium, five times pitching more than 250 innings in a season.
"My goal was always to start 40 games and pitch 280 innings," Kaat said. "I remember one day I said to [pitching coach] Gordon Maltzberger, 'Maybe I need another day' of rest. He said, 'Well, we can start Lee Stange, but if he does well, I can't guarantee you're going to start again.' So I said, 'I'm never letting that happen.' We took a lot of pride going to the post every four days."
Kaat also is arguably the greatest fielding pitcher in AL history, having won an astonishing 16 consecutive Gold Gloves. Only Brooks Robinson (16 at third base) and Greg Maddux (18 as a pitcher) could equal that record.
He compiled a career 3.45 ERA, and survived a few slumps when teams thought he was through. In fact, the Twins waived him in 1973 "because they thought I was done," Kaat said, but he pitched another decade. Then he transitioned into a longtime broadcasting career, doing hundreds of national telecasts.
Even so, he was taken by surprise to get the call Sunday, telling him he had received 12 of the 16-member committee's votes.
"It is the most uncomfortable, pressurized day you can imagine. … I never really thought it would come," Kaat said. "But as Teddy Simmons said last year, I wouldn't change a thing. It's certainly been worth the wait."