The Glove Club: Jim Kaat
Jim Kaat was one of the most amazing all-around athletes to toe a major league pitching rubber. He pitched in the majors for 25 years, was quite possibly the best fielding pitcher ever to play the game, and was one of baseball’s best-hitting pitchers throughout his career.
He also happened to win enough games to qualify for enshrinement in Cooperstown, though at this writing he was not yet a member of the Hall of Fame.
A teenage Kaat was signed by the Washington Senators in 1957, and joined the Senators’ staff for keeps at the end of the 1960 season. (Kaat was the last member of the original Washington Senators to play in the major leagues.) He was part of the starting rotation during the team’s first year in Minnesota in 1961, going 9-17 for the Twins despite a respectable 3.90 ERA. In 1962, Kaat went from a 17-game loser to an 18-game winner, finishing 18-14 for the Twins with a 3.14 ERA and leading the league with five shutouts. He won 17 games for the Twins in 1964 and 18 games as the Twins won the American League pennant in 1965. He led the league with 42 starts that year. In the 1965 World Series (won by the Los Angeles Dodgers), Kaat started three games, going 1-2 with a 3.77 ERA.
Kaat’s best season for the Twins came in 1966, when he went 25-13 with a 2.75 ERA. He also led the majors in starts with 41, and led the American League in complete games (19) and innings pitched (304).
Kaat won 16 games for the Twins in 1967, and 14 in each of the next three seasons. He would not be a 20-game winner again until 1974 and 1975, when he won 21 and 20 games respectively for the Chicago White Sox.
As a batter, Kaat often helped his own cause, hitting .185 over his career with 16 home runs and 106 RBIs. As a fielder, Kaat had no peers among the pitchers of his era, and few major leaguers at any position fielded as well as he did. He won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves, a streak matched only by Brooks Robinson.