Monday July 14, 2003
Hey, the Twins have lost 8 in a row, 22 of their last 28, are 7.5 games behind the Royals, and the White Sox just passed them in the standings as well. I don’t want to write about them, because it may not be good! I think it’s a great time for the All-Star break. But, nothing like coming back next weekend for a 4 game series with the Oakland A’s, followed by a couple games with the Seattle Mariners and then a few games with those Royals. I think we will have a lot more answers after those series. Answers to the question: Will the Twins be a buyer or a seller at the July 31 trade deadline? Either way, who will they trade, or who will they trade for.
Hey, Jacque Jones is coming off the DL in the next day or so. It’ll be interesting to see who the Twins send down. I’m really, really hoping that it’s Justin Morneau. He needs to go back to AAA and remind himself that he is a hitter. He’s been messed up by Ron Gardenhire and Scott Ullger enough for now. Hopefully he can go back down and start hitting again.
Two Twins participated yesterday in the Futures Game, a game of the top prospects in all of baseball. Joe Mauer was the starting catcher for the USA team and went 0-2. Pitcher JD Durbin pitched to just one batter and struck him out.
Oh yeah, I’m not going to write anything about this year’s Twins team… So, here is plenty of information about a former Twins great! Enjoy, and send me your thoughts!
A few weeks ago, I wrote a report or review of the book Moneyball . It was absolutely an incredible book when it comes to the thinking of an organization, drafting, trading, just general analysis. Not everyone may like that book, because it is a book for the stat-heads, of which I am starting to understand and follow much more. It is very much an analytical book, so some may not enjoy that as much.
Thoughts on Jim “Kitty” Kaat
This weekend, I finished reading one of the best baseball books I have even read, Still Pitching: Musings from the Mound and the Microphone, by former Twin, Jim Kaat.
I really enjoy reading the autobiographies of athletes for a couple of reasons. First, it gives a historical perspective, and first hand memories of some of the situations they encountered. Second, it gives a little background into a player. Third, you get to occasionally read that person’s thoughts on other athletes, good or bad. One thing that I generally don’t like about autobiographies of athletes, is that a lot of times they can come off as being very egotistical. With Jim Kaat, that is definitely not the case.
Still Pitching is even better than others I have read for a couple of reasons.
First, if you’re a baseball fan with any interest in the history of the game, you’ll enjoy this book. Kaat was born in November of 1938, and he writes of the players he and his father admired. Some of these players I had barely heard of. But, it was very interesting, because there really weren’t games on TV, so they could only “see” these players through listening to their games on the radio, or seeing pictures in newspapers. Jim Kaat said he learned to pitch by listening to how the announcers described their pitching. So, you learn of some of the players from the ‘40s and ‘50s, and how Kaat learned to love the game. Jim Kaat signed with the Senators organization in 1957 and went to Nebraska to play rookie ball. He spent the 1958 season in the minor leagues (where Jack McKeon was his manager! Yes, the same Jack McKeon who is now the Marlins manager). He made his major league debut in 1959. He got his first big league win against one of his heroes, Whitey Ford. He discusses many of the great players he played with and against from 1959 through his release by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1983. The book is very new, and he mentions how one of his highlights was being invited by the Twins, along with Bert Blyleven and Tony Oliva, to throw out the first pitch before Game 1 of the 2002 ALCS. I was at that game, and the ovation these players received was great!
Second, he had the opportunity to be a pitching coach for a couple of years under Pete Rose. So, yes, he puts some input into his thoughts on Pete Rose and the gambling situation, etc. But, he spends a lot of time discussing his philosophies on pitching. A definite must-read for anyone who is also interested in philosophies on fundamentals of the game, specifically pitching. He is definitely old-school, much like Bert Blyleven, in terms of pitch counts, throwing every day, and the mental side of pitching in the big leagues. Very interesting!
Third, he’s re-made his name as a great broadcaster, first for ESPN, then with Yankees, then with the Twins as well as some Game of the Week work, and now with the Yankees again since 1995. He discusses his thoughts on the role of an announcer. It’s really interesting.
So, there you can see the four phases of the book (as I see it):
1.) Growing up, learning to love the game, pre-pro ball.
2.) Pro-Ball from signing his first contract, through the minor leagues, into the major leagues and everything that is involved with that (6 teams, teammates, managers, opponents and more).
3.) Time as a pitching coach.
4.) Life as a broadcaster.
And, of course, with each of those, Jim Kaat expresses his ideas, philosophies and many things that he learned from coaches and others that he incorporates into those philosophies.
Frequently throughout the book, there are extra “asides” where Mr. Kaat writes his thoughts on some other issues. For instance, he names his All Time Teammate team and his All Time Opponent team. He named the Top 10 pitchers he’s ever seen and the top 5 relief pitchers. He talks about pitching to Ted Williams and how he has the record for most seasons between World Series appearances (1965-he discusses pitching against Sandy Koufax and how good he was- to 1982)
For those of you who know me, yes, I can read a book without just looking at the pictures (surprise!), but I should point out that there are two sections of pictures of Kaat. Some childhood ones, some of his pitching, and quite a few with him and some of the greats of the game.
Yankees manager Joe Torre wrote the Foreword, and a portion of that appears on the back of the book:
“When Jim Kaat talks - or writes - you pay attention because he always has something interesting, something thought-provoking, and something instructing to say.”
This sentence sums up the book. Kaat doesn’t talk to try to impress people. He speaks in a way that anyone can understand him. And, the book is the same way. It’s not at all difficult to read, which I certainly appreciate! This book is very interesting and very thought-provoking. I also think that this is a book that should be read by anyone with an appreciation for the history of the game, as well as anyone who gets into coaching baseball.
Other things that caught my attention (among so many!), his relationship with George Steinbrenner, first as a player for the Yankees, then in his role as a broadcaster for them. His decision to sign with the Senators for 20% of what other teams offered him. The move from Washington to Minnesota. Contract negotiations with Calvin Griffith. Getting released and traded. And so much more. His ideas on how to pitch! I’m not going to give too much away, in case Mr. Kaat checks out my site (which would be VERY COOL, by the way!).
To summarize, I absolutely love this book!!
You may ask what other sports autobiographies I’ve enjoyed nearly as much as this one. Well, Kirby Puckett: I Love This Game and Bo Jackson’s Bo Knows Bo were great too, but this one created extra thinking, which I really appreciate at this point in my life.
A big question surrounding Jim Kaat is whether or not he should be a Hall of Famer. Well, here are some of his career numbers:
Wins - 283
Losses - 237
Strikeouts - 2,461
ERA - 3.45
Gold Gloves - 16 (tied with Brooks Robinson for most in a career)
20-win seasons - 3 (25 in 1966 for the Twins, 21 in 1974 for the White Sox, and 20 in 1975 for the White Sox).
World Series appearances (1965 with the Twins, 1982 with the Cardinals)
So, is Jim Kaat a Hall of Famer? Before reading this book, I would have said Yes, he should be. But, in all honesty, he really probably shouldn’t be. He was a very good pitcher for a lot of years. Had he stayed a starting pitcher (he was primarily a reliever the last 7 or 8 years), he probably could have reached the 300 win milestone and would have been a Hall of Famer. He played on some bad teams and could have had more wins with other teams. But, let me quote Mr. Kaat himself (quoted a couple months after his retirement) on whether he is a Hall of Fame caliber player:
“I’ll never be considered one of the all-time greats, or even one of the all-time goods. But I’m one of the all-time survivors… Maybe there ought to be a Hall of Achievement for players who did quite a bit but were not so famous because they weren’t in so many World Series. And if there’s a Hall of Enjoyment, I’m in it right now.”
Probably very honest and truthful, he’s probably right. Although, he was ‘really good’, not just ‘good’! Maybe sometime in the future, the Veteran’s Committee will round up enough votes for him, and Kaat will enter the Hall of Fame.
Personally, I believe that Bert Blyleven is absolutely a Hall of Famer, and when it comes to guys who aren’t in the Hall of Fame, who are eligible, Kaat is right behind Blyleven as far as I’m concerned. Some may argue the virtues of Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and Alan Trammell, and give reasons why they should be in the Hall of Fame. Well, they were all very good players, but were any of them really a “great of the game”? Isn’t that what the Hall of Fame is supposed to be about?
And who knows? Maybe someday he’ll get into the Hall of Fame for his broadcasting skills. My guess: Either way, he’ll be very happy. He was happy just to get to play in the big leagues, much less to be able to play there for so long. And now he seems very happy as an announcer, being able to explain things to the fans, teach, instruct and just be a great ambassador of the great game of baseball.
What do you think about Jim Kaat? Is he a Hall of Famer? Have you read the book? I’d love to hear your thoughts on anything to do with Kaat. Send me an e-mail and we can discuss it further!
Have a great Monday!
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