Tony Oliva's playing career was over in 1976, and Jim Kaat's career ended in 1983. Neither was able to garner the support needed on the BBWAA's ballots, as both were well short of the 75% required for election. For many players, this signals the end of their chances to get the call from Cooperstown. However, Oliva and Kaat have gotten a second chance through the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Era Committee elections.
The Golden Days Era ballot consists of 10 candidates that the BBWAA's Historical Overview Committee nominates. A 16-person committee of Hall of Famers, veteran baseball executives, and historians/media members is charged with voting on the candidates. Twelve votes are needed for a player to reach the 75% threshold required for induction.
On Sunday, Oliva and Kaat finally received the call. Both were named on 12 of the 16 ballots. Each will be inducted to Cooperstown as part of the induction ceremony on July 24, 2022.
Now in both in their 80s, frustration has likely followed each as they dealt with the election process in parts of nearly four decades. Another level of frustration was added back in the summer of 2020 as the National Baseball Hall of Fame decided to postpone the Era Committee elections due to the COVID pandemic. Although there is still uncertainty about the pandemic, this winter was acceptable for the committee votes to occur,
Oliva's playing career statistics haven't changed since 1976, but he has become so much more than the player he was on the field. His career accolades include AL Rookie of the Year, three batting titles, eight-time All-Star, led the AL in hits five times, and a Gold Glove. Oliva finished runner-up for the AL MVP in two different seasons, and he was in the top-20 in eight other campaigns. He played at a Hall of Fame level for eight years before his right knee slammed into a sprinkler head while diving for a line drive in 1971.
Knee injuries plagued Oliva throughout much of his career. When the AL adopted the designated hitter role in 1973, Oliva never played in the field again during a regular-season game. During the 1976 season, he struggled to a .494 OPS in 67 games. His playing career was done, but he joined the team's coaching staff the following year.
For 15-years, he spent time as a first base coach, hitting coach, and roving minor-league instructor. Oliva served as the hitting coach when the Twins won the 1987 World Series, and he was the bench coach for the 1991 World Series team. Oliva is the only individual who had an on-field role in all three of the team's World Series appearances.
Off the field, Oliva became an ambassador to baseball throughout the upper Midwest. He provides Spanish-language broadcasting for the Twins. Oliva is a staple as part of the team's Twins Caravan, making trips to small towns throughout Twins Territory. He and his wife, Gordette, have lived in Minnesota for over five decades as the Olivas impacted the community.
Kaat's resume also puts him among the best all-time. His longevity is something to behold and it was a large part of his Cooperstown case. During a 25-year career, he finished with a 3.45 ERA and 2,461 strikeouts in 4,530 1/3 innings. He was an original member of the Twins franchise as he came with the club when they relocated from Washington. His first 15 big-league seasons were spent in the Senator/Twins organization. He was a two-time All-Star with the Twins, and he led the AL in wins, starts, and innings pitched back in 1966.
He played with five different organizations by the end of his career and averaged over 180 innings per season. His defensive prowess puts him into rarified air. He won 16 consecutive Gold Glove awards, which is tied with Brooks Robinson for second all-time. Only Greg Maddux and his 18 Gold Gloves rank ahead of Kaat on the all-time list.
Congratulations to both players and their families. It was a long time coming, but the honor is well deserved.
What is your favorite memory of Tony-O or Jim Kaat? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.