Jim Kaat, last of the Griffith Nats, is finally a Hall-of-Famer

updated Dec. 5, 2021

On April 27, 1960, at Yankee Stadium, 21-year-old left-hander Jim Kaat gave up three hits and one earned run in seven innings as the Senators beat Hall-of-Famer Whitey Ford. It was Kaat’s only win in a Washington uniform over parts of the 1959 and ’60 seasons.

1960 Topps card

Kaat was signed by the Senators in July 1957. After three appearances late in 1959, he made the team out of spring training in 1960. He started nine times in 13 games over 50 innings in 1960, when he was with Washington into June and then again after a September call-up. He spent July and August at AAA Charleston.

In Kaat’s last appearance as a pitcher for the Senators, he threw an inning and a third against the Yankees on September 27, 1960, during the team’s last series at Griffith Stadium. He came in with one out in the eighth and two men on. Although he wasn’t charged with a run, he immediately gave up two RBI singles, sealing the Yanks’ 5-1 win.. This was the fourth of a season-ending seven straight losses for those Nats, ending their hopes of finishing in fourth place and above .500.

Kaat actually appeared in the final game at Griffith Stadium, but playing for the Twins and not as a pitcher. He ran for Earl Battey in the sixth inning on September 21, 1961, as the expansion Senators lost to Minnesota, 6-3.

In 1983, after 25 seasons and 283 victories, Kaat threw his last pitch in the big leagues. He was with the St. Louis Cardinals, his fifth team (six if you count the Senators/Twins as two). In 1982, he was part of the Cards’ bullpen when St. Louis won the World Series, the only time Kaat earned a winners’ ring.

Kaat became an all-star with the Twins after Calvin Griffith moved the Senators to Minnesota. He started three times, winning once, against Sandy Koufax in the 1965 World Series, which the Twins lost to the Dodgers in seven games.

As a 25-game winner with a 2.75 ERA and 205 strikeouts in 1966, Kaat surely would have been the American League’s Cy Young Award winner, if one had been awarded in each league that season. (Koufax was the unanimous winner in the last season before the award went to pitchers in both the A.L. and N.L.)

Kaat won a record 16 consecutive Gold Gloves, although several were probably based on his reputation. Advanced fielding metrics applied retrospectively show him to be a below-average fielder in several of those seasons. In 1969, for example, he won the Gold Glove despite a fielding percentage of .826 and a league-leading eight errors.

Still, his 283 wins had been the second most (five behind Tommy John) by a pitcher not in the Hall of Fame and are more than scores of other inductees. Kaat was a three-time 20-game winner and three-time all-star. He pitched in the post-season four times. He threw 31 shutouts among his 180 complete games. Counting the times he was a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner, he appeared in more than 1,000 games, 898 of them as a pitcher.

Kaat never received even 30 percent of the votes by the baseball writers when he was on the Hall-of-Fame ballot, but in December 2021, at age 83, he became one of three players enshrined by the Golden Era Committee. The vote of 75 percent of the committee members was needed for induction. Finally, one of the veterans committees considering overlooked players from different eras voted to induct Kaat.

On July 1, 1983, in his final appearance in the big leagues at age 44, he gave up one hit over a scoreless inning-and-a third. Five days later, the Cardinals released him. After a couple of short coaching stints, he began a long broadcasting career, first with the Twins and then with the Yankees and MLB network.

Kaat was the last active player to have worn a Washington uniform with the Griffith franchise, eight seasons after Harmon Killebrew, the next-to-last man who wore that uniform, had retired. Jim Kaat’s 83rd birthday was November 7, 2021.  

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