New Hall of Famer Jim Kaat returns to Cooperstown in support of Pathfinder Village

Part of the HOFVISITS series

Fifty-seven days after being inducted into the sport’s greatest club, Jim Kaat returned to Cooperstown.

The southpaw hurler with 283 victories over 25 seasons was in the area to serve as the celebrity host for the Pathfinder Village-Baseball Hall of Fame Golf Invitational at the Leatherstocking Golf Course in Cooperstown on Sept. 19.

Kaat, between interacting with golf teams as they approached the 18th hole, spoke about his life since he was enshrined on July 24.

“I think actually I have more memories reflecting on the Induction Ceremony,” Kaat said. “And now when I think back, the thing that was the most enjoyable is that my grandkids, family, a lot of my close friends, to share it with them and they were so happy for me. If I had been here alone it wouldn’t have been the same. So reflecting on it is still pretty cool.”

Kaat was elected via the Golden Days Era Committee, along with former Minnesota Twins teammate Tony Oliva, Gil Hodges and Minnie Miñoso, on Dec. 5. The entire seven-member class also included Early Baseball Era Committee electees Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil, as well as Baseball Writers’ Association of America electee David Ortiz.

Asked if his life had changed in the nearly two months since his last time in Cooperstown, the 83-year-old Kaat pinpointed the exact life-changing moment.

“It changed right after I hung up the phone from (Hall of Fame chairman) Jane Clark’s phone call in December,” Kaat said. “Tony La Russa, when he called me after my election, said, ‘Your life has changed.’ I got people calling me I hadn’t talked to in 40 years. I haven’t thrown a pitch in 34 years – what did I do different?

“No disrespect to the other halls of fame, but baseball is special. The magnitude of that attention is what really overwhelmed me.”

According to Kaat, he’s constantly reminded of the magnitude of his newfound status in the game whenever he signs an autograph with “HOF” or is introduced as “Hall of Famer …”

“It’s like a guy standing on the first tee and they announced he’s the current U.S. Open champion,” he said. “It’s pretty surreal. It really is.

“It was well worth the wait.”

And spending time at the Otesaga Resort Hotel with his fellow Hall of Famers leading up to the Induction Ceremony was its own reward.

Johnny Bench goes around and takes a lot of pictures,” Kaat said. “I remember he called me out of lobby there to the veranda overlooking Otsego Lake and he said, ‘I want you to come out here and sit with me.’ And he said, ‘Just to look out into the lake and think about for a minute what you’ve accomplished.’ That was nice of him to do that because I remember sitting there with Robin Roberts, Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford and Bob Feller. So that’s always been a special spot for me.”

As for his golf game, Kaat said: “I don’t play as well as I did 10 years ago, but I still enjoy getting out especially at a place like this.”

Kaat made news again in August when he announced he was ending his broadcasting career after nearly four decades. In that time, he worked behind a microphone for the Yankees and Twins on a local level, while nationally he’s seen time with CBS, ESPN, NBC and, most recently, MLB Network.

“I didn’t really retire. I just walked away from the game,” Kaat explained. “I just think it’s time for a younger, more recently retired player. Like say if an Adam Wainwright retired. They’ve got to have somebody who understands and can talk about the analytics that are being used. I can’t because number one, I don’t believe in a lot of them, and number two, I don’t want to use the broadcast booth to voice my opinion on it. So I just said it’s time to walk away.”

Proceeds from the golf event benefited Pathfinder Village located in nearby Edmeston, a residential community dedicated to children and adults with Down syndrome and other disabilities. Kaat met with a number of the residents while touring the site the previous day.

“It’s been unbelievable learning more about Pathfinder Village. I really want to get more involved in that if I can,” Kaat said. “I was playing kickball with them yesterday and I was pitching and they were kicking it all over the lot.

“I have a lot of admiration for Paul (Pathfinder Village President and CEO Paul C. Landers) with the passion that he has.”

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the HOFVISITS series