Zeeland Native Inducted Into Baseball Hall Of Fame
Jim Kaat pitched for over 25 years in the Major Leagues, surviving more on pitching smarts than pitching speed.
Kaat Went To Zeeland High And Later Starred At Hope College
Jim Kaat, 83 years young, was inducted Sunday into Baseball's Hall of Fame as a Golden Era Veteran's Committee selection, 39 years after throwing his last Major League pitch. He pitched for 25 years for six different teams. He was 45 years old when he retired in 1984, after failing to make the Pittsburgh Pirates roster in spring training.
Kaat remained in baseball after retiring as a player, becoming a coach on several teams and eventually landing as an announcer for the Minnesota Twins. In all, he spent eight decades in baseball.
Kaat was drafted out of Hope College in 1957 by the Washington Senators, and made his major league debut in 1959. He soon became a mainstay of the Senators pitching staff, mostly after they moved to Minneapolis and became the Minnesota Twins.
Kaat was born in Zeeland in 1938 to John and Nancy Kaat, the youngest of their four children. He learned the game playing pickup ball around town, as there were no organized leagues for children back then. He began organized ball at a 16 year old in the American Legion League.
Kaat would later help establish a Little League program in Zeeland, where the fields are currently named for him.
Kaat Grew Four Inches In College
A scrawny high school player at Zeeland High, where he was a solid performer, Kaat grew into his powerful 6-3, 220 pound frame while attending Hope College, where he became one of the school's top starting pitchers in 1957, going undefeated and giving up only two runs all season.
“Hope didn’t offer athletic scholarships, but they did help me earn money for tuition by getting me a summer job in a laundry,” Kaat told SecondWave Lakeshore. “I was lifting big gray bags of dirty linens that came in from motels booked with summer tourists. It was heavy work, I was burning a lot of calories, and my mother (Nancy Kaat) says she worked hard to keep enough food on the table to satisfy me. It’s also a good thing she was a good seamstress, because she had to alter my clothes a couple of times that summer.”
He Was Drafted By The Washington Senators, Who Then Moved To Minnesota
Kaat worked his way up from the minor leagues into the Senators starting rotation by 1959, but it was in Minnesota that he became a star. He won 18 games, to help the Twins get into the 1965 World Series, where he went 1-2 and the Twins lost a close seven game series to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kaat had to face fellow Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax in all three games he started.
The following season, 1966, was his best in the majors as he won 25 games and was named to the American League All Star team.
Kaat never had blazing speed over his long career, but he had pinpoint control, and worked fast to keep batters off guard. I think Greg Maddux, the Cubs Hall of Famer is a great modern comparison.
He would eventually win a World Series, appearing in four games in relief for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1982 Fall Classic, as the Cards defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 4 games to 3.
Kaat Referred To The Lessons Learned In Zeeland In His Acceptance Speech
In his acceptance speech Sunday, Kaat thanked the many West Michigan programs that allowed him to become the pitcher he was, which was smart and strategic.
“I had great parents and grew up in a great community — Zeeland, Michigan — and I was gifted with the ability to play baseball.
I didn’t have a pitching coach growing up but I had American Legion coaches and high school coaches that encouraged me, like Bob Hoover in Zeeland. It is nice to be able to point out what a great community to grow up in it is. And then of course, my one year at Hope College.”
Kaat was very good for a very long time, which he told Bob Costas below, may have been the reason he got in.
“I think it just speaks to the tradition of the program and all of the great players that have worn the orange and blue. To have a former Hope player be enshrined with all of the other greats is in line with the transformational experiences that Hope has provided for so many. We're proud to say that Jim Kaat was a Hope College baseball player.”
Six Michigan Natives Are Now In The Hall
According to my best estimate, Michigan now has six people who were born in the state who are now in Baseball's Hall of Fame. Not bad for a northern state.
Derek Jeter (Kalamazoo)
John Smoltz (Detroit)
Hal Newhouser (Detroit)
Kiki Cuyler (Harrisville)
Charlie Gehringer (Fowlerville)
and now, Kaat.
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