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Jim Kaat humbled by orientation visit to National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

On Tuesday, Kaat and his wife, Margie, had a special orientation tour, in which he was guided around the museum by Erik Strohl, the museum’s Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections.

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Jim Kaat is pictured in the Plaque Gallery during his orientation visit to the National Baseball Hall Of Fame and Museum.
Ariele Goldman Hecht / National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Jim Kaat’s storytelling ability is not what ultimately landed him in Cooperstown. But it sure could have.

It was Kaat’s left arm that led him to the Baseball Hall of Fame. But after his distinguished playing career, one which spanned 25 seasons and four different decades, came to an end, Kaat embarked on an award-winning broadcasting career that continues to this day.

His recall and his ability to tell a story about anyone — and he does, truly, seem to have a story about everyone from Mickey Mantle to Hank Aaron, whom he sat next to at Harmon Killebrew’s funeral, to Mike Schmidt and so many in between — full of color and detail have led to a lengthy second career as an announcer.

Given that memory, it’s no surprise that he can detail exactly the day he fell in love with the game of baseball, the game that he would give so much of himself to and the game that would give so much back to him in return.

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June 26, 1946.

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“(My dad) took me to a doubleheader, Red Sox–Tigers,” he said Tuesday. “I saw Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Hank Greenberg, Hal Newhouser, all future hall of famers. When I walked up the ramp to find our seats in that dark green cathedral called Briggs Stadium, I saw the greenest green, the uniforms were the whitest white. I think my little 7-year-old brain said, ‘I want to be one of those guys.’ ”

And that’s exactly what he did.

On July 24, Kaat, 83, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside his longtime teammate Tony Oliva, the duo becoming just the fifth and sixth to ever go in as Minnesota Twins. Both were voted in this past December by the Golden Days Era committee, earning the necessary 75 percent of the vote for enshrinement.

On Tuesday, Kaat and his wife, Margie, had a special orientation tour, in which he was guided around the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum by Erik Strohl, the museum’s Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections. At the end, he slipped on his Hall of Fame jersey for the first time and signed his plaque backer, neatly scrawling out his name right next to Oliva’s future plaque.

The day, he said, was simply “humbling.”

“There are different levels of the Hall of Fame, and I would never be naive enough to put myself in a class with Sandy (Koufax) and (Bob Gibson) and (Tom) Seaver and (Juan) Marichal. But I’m honored to be here I think as a representative of longevity and maybe dependability, accountability, and I’m happy about that.”

Kaat’s orientation started in the Grandstand Theater with a short video titled “Generations of the Game,” which was filled with highlights and interviews — Aaron, Cal Ripken Jr., Rod Carew were among the many hall of famers who spoke — about their love and passion for the game. He later said multiple times that he wished every organization would show the video to all players to help them learn about the game’s history.

“That’s inspiring,” Kaat said once he finished. “I’m glad I don’t have to give my speech after that.”

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His tour then took him through the 1800s into the 1900s, Kaat occasionally interspersing baseball trivia questions into conversation as he walked. When he came upon an exhibit about women in baseball, he remarked that he used to go to Grand Rapids Chicks games growing up in nearby Zeeland, Mich. Upon reaching an exhibit that included Robin Roberts, Kaat described in detail a game in 1962 during which the two pitchers dueled for 11 innings, Kaat’s Twins eventually ousting the Orioles 3-1 in what he would call one of his favorite wins of his career.

When Johan Santana’s jersey came into sight, Kaat remarked that he was never encouraged to throw a changeup, but if there was one pitch he wished he had had, it would’ve been “that good changeup like Santana.” And upon seeing Joe Mauer’s jersey, he bestowed the St. Paul native with the highest honor.

“He’ll be in here someday soon,” Kaat said.

Kaat was later showed a series of artifacts, from a Babe Ruth bat, which he held and inspected, to an old jersey of his own, which was situated right next to Lefty Grove’s. In 1947, John Kaat, Jim’s father, made a journey to Cooperstown himself to see Grove’s induction ceremony. After slipping on his new jersey and signing his plaque backer, Kaat located Grove in the Plaque Gallery..

“I keep imagining what it’ll be like standing on that podium and thinking 75 years ago, my dad drove here to seen an induction — and what would he think if he were here today?” Kaat said. “It’s mind boggling. That was cool for me because that was the first real baseball hero that I heard about and then to have my picture taken by his plaque, that’s something I’ll treasure.”

There have been plenty of moments for Kaat to treasure lately, since the day he received a call from Jane Forbes Clark, the Chairman of the Board of Directors at the Hall of Fame on Dec. 5 welcoming him to an elite club.

And there will be plenty more in his future, too.

“When I got the call from Jane, and as soon as you hear those words, ‘This is Jane Clark,’ they don’t call with bad news,” said Kaat, who had been passed over multiple times in the past. “And then Tony (La Russa) said, ‘You know, your life changes forever,’ and I think the deeper I get into the process, the more humbling it is. … It is a gift.”

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