By Glen Sparks
Jim Kaat almost made it into the Hall of Fame. Or, maybe he wasn’t that close after all.
The former pitcher needed 12 votes among the 16 members of the Golden Era committee; he got 10. Kaat was a near miss, right? He came up just two votes short. But, as he notes in his recent blog post, it’s a bit more complicated than that. (You can read my original post about Kaat and his Hall of Fame qualifications.)
Kaat is a big fan of horse racing, he explains. So, he understands something about narrowing the field. At least three of the committee members had very little chance of voting him into Cooperstown, he writes. All three were Golden Era members who never saw Kaat play or did not see him in his prime. (Kaat doesn’t call out the three by name, but he does drop some biographical hints. You can make a decent guess that the trio consisted of Elias Sports Bureau executive Steve Hirdt, writer Tracy Ringolsby and Royals owner David Glass.)
If that was the case, he needed 12 of the remaining 13 votes to go his way, or 92 percent. He got 77 percent (10 of 13), or just more than the 75 percent required for induction.
Kaat makes a few other solid points in his post. And, let me add that he does not come across as bitter at all. He thanks his friends and fans for their support. Also, he wasn’t exactly sweating out the suspense at home, waiting for a call from the Hall of Fame. He was sitting in a chair at the dentist’s office.
Anyway, Kaat suggests that the Golden Era committee—a group put together to look at players and executives who made their mark in baseball from 1947 to 1972—be made up of people who actually saw the nominated players perform. … I support this up to a point. Committee members should know about the superstars and the bench jockeys of the era, yes. Whether they know them by living through that time or by studying the game’s history is less important. And we’re going to need baseball historians—not eyewitnesses—to right any wrongs from a previous era.
Kaat also supports reconvening the committee if a particular player falls a vote or two short. Maybe point that out and call for a re-vote. … I like this idea. Look, you can’t put together a committee and torture the members by forcing them to watch reruns of The Golden Girls until someone gets 12 votes. You can, however, keep the debate going if a candidate has strong support.
The induction process is hard. You have 16 committee members, and each member has a maximum of four votes. So, that’s 64 votes to go around. So, yes, it’s hard, it’s supposed to be hard, and every player had his chance on the first go-round of voting, some of them for 15 years.
Hard, yes. Should it be nearly impossible, though? The Golden Era committee met one other time, in 2010 (with a different set of committee members). That time, of the 10 candidates, only Ron Santo got it. So, the committee is 1 for 20.
Why not bump up the size of the committee from 16 to 24 or 32? That would make it difficult for just a few committee members to hold up a player from induction. Also, change the maximum number of votes that each committee member can cast from four to six. That would increase the maximum number of votes from 64 to 96, maybe loosening up things a bit. Really, why even go through the bother of nominating players for the ballot, debating their merit and then voting “yea” or “neh” if “neh” always rules the day?
Kaat was a bulldog of a pitcher. He threw a ton of innings (4,530.1), and he won a lot of games (283). Did he take the ball when his arm was sore, when a pitcher from today’s game might beg off from a start? I bet he did. Did he play in an era when a good rubdown was all a trainer could offer? I think so. Will Kaat get another chance at going into the Hall of Fame? I hope so.
By Glen Sparks
Jim Kaat won 283 games in his career, four fewer than Bert Blyleven and 13 more than Burleigh Grimes.
He pitched for parts of 25 seasons, won 25 games in 1966, and retired with 16 Gold Glove awards.
Does that make the 6-foot-5-inch left-hander from Zeeland, Mich., a Hall of Famer? We’ll find out Dec. 8.
A group called the Golden Era committee looked at nine ballplayers and one executive who may be worthy of the Hall of Fame, but who may have slipped through the cracks during their regular run of eligibility: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Bob Howsam, Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant, Gil Hodges and Maury Wills. Howsam is the executive in the group.
Any nominee who wins at least 75 percent of the vote will get into Cooperstown. The Golden Era Committee consists of Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; executives Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson; and veteran media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby. So, a nominee needs at least 12 votes.
In my Nov. 13 post, I linked to an article by St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz that offers a great Hall of Fame case for former Cardinal third baseman Ken Boyer. This is the first of my posts about the remaining Golden Era candidates.
The Hall of Famer I am comparing Kaat with is Sutton. That seems like a fair match. Kaat pitched from 1959-1983. Sutton pitched from 1966-1988. The point here is to see how Kaat’s stats measure up with a player already enshrined in Cooperstown.
Sutton, who took the mound for the Dodges and five other teams, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998, in his fifth year on the ballot, with 81.6 percent of the vote. This also makes Sutton a good comp for Kaat. He was not a slam-dunk Hall of Fame choice like Tom Seaver or Steve Carlton.
Here we go with the first round of Kaat and Sutton by the numbers:
287-237, 544 Pct.
3.45 ERA (108 ERA+)
898 games, 625 games started
324-256, .559 Pct.
3.26 ERA (108 ERA+)
774 Games, 756 games started
So, Sutton wins in every category except for complete games, and Kaat only wins there by two. They have the same ERA+ despite Sutton’s lower career ERA. This is mostly because Sutton played so long at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. Sutton has big advantages in innings pitched (748), strikeouts (1,013) and shutouts (27).
You’ll notice that Kaat had plenty of games as non-starter. From 1979 until he retired after the 1983 season, Kaat appeared in 223 games. He only started 19 times.
Now, let’s look at one more round of stats:
Sutton has a decent-sized edge here, too, and a big 23.4 advantage in WAR. On Kaat: How many Hall of Fame pitchers gave up more than a hit per inning? There can’t be many.
Just a few more notes: Kaat made three All-Star teams. Sutton made four. Kaat finished just once in the Top 5 in Cy Young voting, while Sutton finished fives times in the top five.
In the postseason, Kaat went 1-3 with a 4.01 ERA. Sutton went 6-4 with a 3.68 ERA.
Kaat does beat out Sutton in a few areas. Only Greg Maddux, for instance, has more Gold Gloves as a pitcher (18). Sutton did not win any Gold Gloves.
Kaat finished fifth in the MVP voting in 1966, a year he went 25-13 with the Twins. He threw 304.2 innings and 19 complete games. Sutton’s best MVP finish was 22nd in 1976, the year won a career-high 21 games.
When you think of Kaat, what team comes to mind? He played 15 seasons and won 190 games with the Twins. Interestingly, he was with the White Sox when he put together his two finest WAR seasons, at ages 35 and 36. He had WARs of 7.1 (1974) and 7.8 (1975), fifth- and fourth-best in the A.L., respectively. Sutton’s best WAR years were 1972 (6.6) and 1980 (6.3).
Quick note on hitting. Sutton batted .144 in his career with 0 home runs and 64 RBI. He holds baseball’s all-time record for most at-bats (1,354) without a homer. He did hit 15 doubles and one triple. Plus, he had 136 sacrifice bunts. He stole a base. Kaat batted .185 with 16 homers and 106 RBI. He also hit 44 doubles, 5 triples and went five for six in stolen base attempts. He had 34 sacrifice bunts. (None of the preceding paragraph means anything when it comes to Hall of Fame voting for pitchers.)
Of course, when people talk about Jim Kaat as a Hall of Fame candidate, the name “Tommy John” invariably comes up. Here is a quick look at T.J. and how he stacks up with Kaat. (Tommy John is not in the Hall of Fame, although you probably know all about the famous elbow surgery that bears his name.)
288-231, 555 Pct. Tommy John gets the edge.
3.34 ERA (111 ERA+) T.J.
760 Games, 700 Starts T.J. had more starts.
162 complete games Kaat
46 shutouts T.J.
4,710.1 IP T.J.
1,259 BB Kaat had fewer.
2,245 K Kaat
1.283 WHIP Kaat
9.1 H/P T.J.
2.4 BB/9 Kaat
1.78 BB/K T.J.
62.3 WAR T.J.
Summing it up
Kaat gets lost a bit in any debate about outstanding pitchers of the 1960s and ‘70s. He put up good numbers in an era when guys like Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer were putting up bigger numbers and winning the awards.
“Kitty” Kaat, as he was known, certainly stacks up with that next rung of Hall of Fame pitchers: Sutton, Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale, Catfish Hunter, etc., especially if you look at his top few seasons. He was a workhorse throughout much of his career (nine seasons of double-digit complete games) and became a lefty relief specialist toward the end. I think he has a good chance of making it to the Hall.
Just one question, though:
If Kaat goes in, doesn’t Tommy John have to go in, too?