December 13, 2021

A stroll down memory lane with Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Kaat

It never fails: A current or former Twins player is in the news and before long I have stumbled across something online that is entirely new to me. Who has been in the news? Former Twins Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva, both of whom were recently elected to the Class of 2022 of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. As I perused headlines there it was: A 2019 interview with Kaat as produced by the Society for American Baseball Research. Over a couple of hours, Kaat was interviewed about his entire career, including his time with the Senators and Twins.

During the interview, Kaat was asked to respond/remember a number of players, former teammates and other personalities of the game.

Pitcher Pedro Ramos: A hot-blooded Cuban who liked to wear Western-style clothing, including fake pistols, he said. Kaat earned his first major league win over Whitey Ford and the New York Yankees and Ramos backed him with a save.

Pitcher Camilo Pascual: Not very tall, and frail in appearance, but he had a big overhand curveball. On opening day 1960, with the wind blowing in at the Senators’ ballpark, it had the feel of a big day for Camilo, and so it was, as he struck out 15 Boston Red Sox in a 10-1 win. His 15 strikeouts still stands as an opening day record.

Catcher Earl Battey: Kaat said he once fell behind in the count to Mickey Mantle 2-0 and Battey made the sign of the cross before his next pitch.

First baseman Vic Power: A flashy player who brought Kaat the ball after he misplayed a grounder that knocked out some teeth. After receiving stitches in his mouth, Kaat was told to keep running wind sprints with the rest of the team, but begged off because of the pain in his mouth. The Twins’ pitching coach agreed, but warned Kaat that not building leg strength would make his next few starts hard. No matter, Kaat went on to pitch four complete games, three of them extra innings.

Shortstop Zoilo Versalles: A very talented shortstop who won the MVP award in 1965. But he won it too early in his career because after that he felt he needed to be “Harmon” and carry the team. The pressure hurt the remainder of his career.

Manager Billy Martin: He would let you pitch, but he also second-guessed pitches. Face to face communication with him was fine, but you couldn’t control him away from the game. “I always felt he needed to be locked in the dugout during the game and locked in his hotel after it,” Kaat said. Former Twins owner, Calvin Griffith, had an open door policy with Martin, but not during his afternoon nap. And that’s exactly when Billy showed up to talk to him.

Pitcher Dean Chance: Started the 1964 season at 5-4, then went 15-5 to end it, but he had such an unorthodox motion it wasn’t long before his arm broke down.

Calvin Griffith: His parsimonious ways were very real. Kaat won 17 games in 1964 and asked for a raise to his $27,000 salary. Griffith replied: Can you find another job that pays $27,000? Kaat had a ready answer: Can you find another pitcher who won 17 games?

World Series: The Twins knocked Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale out of Game 1 of the 1965 World Series, 8-2. Koufax was supposed to get the start, but declined to observe Yom Kippur. After the Twins roughed up Drysdale, Dodgers manager Walter Alston went to the mound to remove him and Don quipped: “Bet you wish I was Jewish.”

Infielder Rod Carew: He was a rookie in 1967, but he took batting practice with the Twins in 1966. “We could tell he was going to be an exceptional hitter,” Kaat said.


Hi, I’m Rolf Boone, Twins fan.

I became a fan of the Minnesota Twins after a friendly wager in the early 1980s. I survived Ron Davis, the meltdown in Cleveland, Phil Bradley at the Kingdome and then marveled at a rising generation of stars and two World Series wins in 1987 and 1991. Brad Radke made the 1990s bearable, while Kirby Puckett’s eye injury, exit from the game and eventual death made it almost too much to bear. The new century ushered in more talent — Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau — and consecutive seasons of playoff baseball, followed by consecutive seasons of losing baseball. A winning season returned in 2015. So here we are. Go Twins.