Minnesota Twins legends Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat elected to Hall of Fame
The duo will be inducted to the Hall of Fame on July 24, 2022, alongside Gil Hodges and Minnie Miñoso, as well as Buck O’Neil and Bud Fowler, who were elected on the Early Baseball Era ballot, and any players who make it from the writers’ ballot.
ST. PAUL -- Tony Oliva had been waiting for this moment for more than four decades. Waiting, wondering, hoping. Jim Kaat had stopped wondering, instead opting to believe the call would ever come.
But on Sunday afternoon, both received a life-changing phone call, one letting them know they had been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and would be enshrined next summer.
The two Minnesota Twins legends earned admission into Cooperstown via the Golden Days Era ballot. Both received 12 votes from the 16-person committee, good for the requisite 75%. The last time the pair had their candidacy voted on in 2014, Oliva fell one vote short and Kaat two.
“I was wondering if the phone call would come today or not, because I have a lot of people here in the house and I don’t want to disappoint them one more time,” Oliva said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for 45 years. … I never dreamed that something like this would happen to me, to be able to be in the Hall of Fame.”
Oliva, 83, was a three-time batting champion. During his 15-year playing career, he was an eight-time all-star. Oliva, a right fielder, was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1964, leading the league in hitting in his first two seasons. He finished his career as a .304 hitter.
After his playing career, he went on to coach for the Twins, serving on the staffs of the 1987 and 1991 World Series winning teams. He currently remains an ambassador for the organization and an analyst on the Twins’ Spanish radio broadcasts.
The call finally came in around 4:40 p.m., Oliva said, after a long last 10-15 minutes spent waiting for the phone to ring. His former teammate Kaat, in contrast, put his headphones in and turned on football and golf throughout the day, anything he could to keep his mind off thinking about his Hall of Fame fate.
“It’s the most uncomfortable, pressurized day you can imagine,” Kaat said.
But after going through the process multiple times, Kaat had said earlier in the week leading into the vote that he would be more surprised if he got the call welcoming him to Cooperstown than if he didn’t.
“I’m very humbled and grateful. I really didn’t think this day would ever come,” he said. “It comes as more of a gift to me.”
Kaat, 83, won 283 games over the course of a 25-year playing career. He is the Twins’ all-time leader in wins (189), games started (422) and innings pitched (2959 1/3).
He was a three-time all-star and a 16-time Gold Glove winner, finishing his career with a 3.45 earned-run average. He then embarked on a long career as a broadcaster — which continues to this day — that has won him seven Emmy Awards.
While Kaat pitched for a number of teams during his career, he spent a majority of his career with the Twins — first the Washington Senators — and he confirmed on Sunday that he will be entering the Hall of Fame as a Twin.
The two become the fifth and sixth Twins to be elected to the Hall of Fame, joining a club that includes Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett and Bert Blyleven. Carew was originally supposed to be part of the 16-person voting committee but was replaced this week by Blyleven. The committee was made up of Hall of Famers, executives and veteran media members and historians.
Olivia and Kaat will be inducted on July 24, 2022, alongside Gil Hodges and Minnie Miñoso — who were on the Golden Days Era ballot; two players — Buck O’Neil, Bud Fowler, who played in Stillwater in the Northwestern League in 1884 — who were on the Early Baseball Era ballot and any players who make it from the writers’ ballot.
“Sometimes, I wondered, because I’d been waiting for a long time, if it was ever going to happen,” Oliva said. “It’s something that happened today, and I don’t have the right words to express … the way that I’m feeling.”