Oliva, Kaat teammates again in Hall of Fame
Kaat and Oliva were selected with Gil Hodges and Minnie Miñoso by the Golden Days Era Committee. Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil were selected by the Early Baseball Era Committee, while David Ortiz was the lone selection by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, rounding out the seven-person class. The Induction Ceremony will be televised live by MLB Network.
Kaat was a beacon of longevity in baseball, so much so he joked he might only be getting endorsement offers from Duracell battery.
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He pitched for 25 years before retiring in 1983 with 283 wins and 17 saves. He entered the league with the Washington Senators before moving with the team to Minnesota. After 15 years with the Twins’ organization, Kaat made stops with the White Sox, Phillies, Yankees and Cardinals.
Kaat’s ability to pitch with finesse, rather than power, allowed him to remain in the game for so long.
A starter for most of his career, Kaat pivoted to the bullpen with the Yankees in 1979. He also was an elite fielder and his pitching form, which he modeled after his idol Bobby Shantz, allowed him to finish in a perfect fielding position. He mastered it, winning 16 consecutive Gold Glove Awards.
His durability, he said, ranks near the top of his list of accomplishments.
“I wanted to play this game for as long as I could,” Kaat said. “Steve Carlton and I used to say ‘Let’s play ‘til we’re 50.’”
Oliva’s career was much shorter. Knee problems late in his career forced him to retire after 15 seasons, all with Minnesota, but he had already racked up three batting titles, eight All-Star appearances and a .304 lifetime average.
“Those teams not only hit home runs, they hit for high averages too,” Oliva said.
In 1965, the Twins won the pennant. Kaat started a major-league best 42 games, going 18-11 with a 2.83 ERA. Oliva batted .321, finishing runner-up in the MVP race. They lost the World Series in seven games to the Los Angeles Dodgers, with Kaat outdueled by Sandy Koufax in Game 7.
Oliva would make it back to the playoffs twice but would never return to the World Series. Kaat wouldn’t return until he was with St. Louis in 1982.
The Cardinals’ World Series victory made Kaat the first athlete of the four major sports to play 24 seasons before winning his first ring.
Evan Gerike is the 2022 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development