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Jim Kaat’s HOF Candidacy

By Mike Silva ~ November 28th, 2011. Filed under: Hall of Fame.

We have been discussing the Veterans Committee “Golden Era” selections over the last few weeks. Gil Hodges and Allie Reynolds have been the two names discussed that are close to home here in New York. Jim Kaat, also on the ballot, is a name we haven’t delved deeply into, but that all changes now since he deserves a closer look due to his New York ties.

Marty Noble recently wrote a piece at MLB.com advocating the Hall of Fame candidacy of Kaat. Although he played a season in New York, the lefty is popular in our city due to his work with the Yankees on the YES Network. I always found Kaat to be a solid announcer when he was the Yankees booth. I don’t, however, believe he is Hall of Fame worthy, as his career is more of a compilation than Hall worthy.

In the spirit of full disclosure I never saw Kaat pitch. That is what makes any analysis I provide difficult. I am going by statistics and stories, but also using some form of precedent. I have nothing against longevity, but in the absence of an historic moment or Hall of Fame period during a career, I find it hard to support a candidate. Kaat falls into that category.

Noble admits he didn’t support Kaat often when he was on the ballot, but in hindsight has changed his mind. “He won 283 games, fielded his position as if his life depended on his defense, played the game wisely and played it for 25 seasons,” said Noble. He also passes along a conversation he had with Kaat’s former manager in St. Louis, Whitey Herzog, in which he said “there weren’t too many like him then, and there are less of them now. You never knew if he had a problem. He never made excuses. Just call on him, and you got his best for as long as he could give it.” Herzog used Kaat as a starter/reliever, and called on him often (176 times) during his four years with the Cardinals.

You can’t deny the win total when discussing Kaat’s candidacy. The aforementioned 283 wins are good for 22nd all-time in baseball history. Amongst current Hall of Famer’s, he would be in the top-20. As Noble mentioned, he is one of the better fielding pitchers of all-time with his 16 Gold Gloves - only Greg Maddux has won more. If this were 20 years ago that might be enough, but we are now armed with statistics that delve deeper into his performance.

Kaat’s years in Minnesota (190-159, 3.44, ERA+110) are borderline Hall of Fame. They remind me of Andy Pettitte, someone who would win you 15 games regardless of how well he pitched. Those numbers validate Herzog’s description of Kaat as a competitor and someone who would do anything to win. The last 10 years (89-77, 3.67, ERA+ 103) show a pitcher that was very good and valuable member of the team, but not anywhere near a Hall of Famer. He had a couple of good seasons with the White Sox that are Hall worthy, but with the Yankees and Cardinals he was playing the Darren Oliver role. Again, very important, but not sure if that is Hall worthy. His importance to that team has prompted Keith Hernandez to praise Kaat and advocate his enshrinement to the Hall during SNY broadcasts.

I can’t quibble with someone casting a vote for Kaat. He won games and had a 25-year career that is third all-time behind Nolan Ryan and Tommy John. Amazing that he started when Dwight Eisenhower was president and retired during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The 283 wins and 16 gold gloves are Hall of Fame worthy, but would we be taking this candidacy seriously if his career ended after Minnesota? Even adding the White Sox years puts him short. I count 5 seasons (’62, ’65, ’66, ’73, and ‘74) that are Hall worthy. It just simply is not enough. Putting Kaat in the Hall of Fame makes Jamie Moyer a shoo-in (wait till that debate takes place). For those that need some advanced stats, Kaat’s WAR with Minnesota and Chicago, when he was primarily a starting pitcher, equaled 41.1, which is higher than Catfish Hunter and Dizzy Dean. Both those pitchers had periods, albeit short, where they were dominant; Kaat doesn’t. Actually, his work in the broadcast booth might give him a better chance to make the Hall of Fame down the road.

Again, I am only using my own personal method, stories, and statistics to make my judgment. Those that watched Kaat (see Hernandez) seem to think otherwise. That’s why the 16-member Veteran’s Committee is probably best equipped to make this decision. Assuming, of course, they leave politics at the door.

Vote from now until Saturday in our NYBD Golden Era ballot. Winners will be announced on this Sunday’s show. 

Mike Silva is a freelance writer and radio host since March of 2007. This website is his own personal "digest" of New York Baseball He's also hosts NYBD Radio on Blog Talk Radio and 1240 AM WGBB. Check out his sports media commentary at www.sportsmediawatchdog.com. Check out his official website, www.mikesilvamedia.com
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5 Responses to Jim Kaat’s HOF Candidacy

  1. Chuck Johnson

    Kaat is Bob Costas’ guest tonight on “Studio 42″ on MLBNetwork.

  2. Ken Bland

    Never saw Kaat pitch, eh?

    Fortunate young man you are.

    My toungue is half in cheek with that summation.

    My problem is WHEN I saw him pitch. Mostly, at least. The Phillies had this ludicrous notion that he was still a pitcher toward the end of basically a real good career. Somehow, Jamie Moyer won 16 games for the ’08 Phils (not to place creedence in W’s for a pitcher being meaningful, but it’s what comes to mind)…and equal memory is of him being the luckiest pitcher alive since Roger Pavlick somehow made the AL all-star aquad in ’95 with 11 H1 wins, and a freaking 5 plus ERA. So not that I’m as blatantly prejudicial against seemingly tremendous guy Kitty because of the later years, when he pitched similarly to the aforementioned, and the longetivity is definitely remarkable, but all it did was add to totals. I know of at least 1 Veterans Stadium beer vendor who used to scream “last call before Kaat gets knocked out” when Kaat went into his first pitch of the game. Steve Carlton immitated Kaat his last 2 or so years, but had a more than distinguished career aside. Ditto Bob Gibson. And many more. You want to change the standards of Hall membership, fine…Kitty’s realistic. But his business card should read Hall of Very Good. Which, believe me, is still a ton to be proud of.

  3. Chuck Johnson

    I remembered him when he was with Minnesota and he was a good pitcher back then.

    I met Kaat when he was pitching for the Phillies. It was one of my first assignments with the EL and I was in Reading working for their AA team.

    Back then, Philly would play an in-season exhibition game against their farm clubs.

    We were on the clock and were told very specifically by Reading owner Joe Buzas we couldn’t ask for autographs or “make fools of ourselves” around the players.

    Another thing I remember is Pete Rose walking in with a racing form in his pocket and kicking everybody out of the office so he could call his bookie and place bets at Penn National.

    Whether he was betting on anything else I couldn’t say, but I’d bet on it.

  4. Justin


  5. Justin


    This is my perspective.

    There are two numbers that stick out to me. 283 which are his number of wins. And in an era of relievers, I don’t see how you can hold 300 as that magic number, especially considering that the last 5 years of career, he was primarily a reliever.

    The other number is 16. That’s his number of Gold Gloves. I don’t see how anybody who won 16 of those is not in the Hall of Fame.

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