MINNEAPOLIS — Two of the greatest Minnesota Twins players to take the field will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, July 24.
Former pitcher Jim Kaat and right fielder Tony Oliva will receive their honors during a ceremony in Cooperstown, New York at 12:30 p.m. KARE 11's Randy Shaver will be in attendance.
Kaat and Oliva are the fifth and sixth Twins to be selected to the Hall of Fame, following Harmon Killebrew (1984), Rod Carew (1991), Kirby Puckett (2001) and Bert Blyleven (2011).
Blyleven told KARE 11 that he's very proud of Kaat and Oliva for joining the prestigious club.
"Not only Harmon, not only Kirby Puckett. Now we got Tony, we got Jim Kaat. So pretty proud of that," the Hall of Fame pitcher said.
Twins President and CEO Dave St. Peter said Tony Oliva "has been the greatest ambassador for this organization since his arrival in the Upper Midwest."
“From his prodigious on-field career to the broadcast booth, and in the hearts of fans everywhere in our region, ‘Tony O’ embodies what it truly means to be a Minnesota Twins," St. Peter said in a press release when Oliva and Kaat were elected for the Class of 2022.
After waiting for more than 40 years, Oliva finally received the call that he was selected for the Hall of Fame. However, it won't be the most important part of his decades-long career.
"Seriously, the Hall of Fame is very important, but to play for the Minnesota Twins has been my family, the Twins, been very important for me," he told KARE 11's Randy Shaver.
Oliva, who grew up on a farm in Cuba, was the first American League rookie to win a batting title after he hit 0.323 in 1964. He went on to win two more batting titles in his 15-year career with the Twins. His biggest contract was for $105,000 in 1972, which now looks like a bargain at the time.
"I don't care who pitches. I want to hit the ball. I want to hit, I have to do anything I can do, to hit that ball," he said.
"And I think he feels as though he's a very lucky man. And at the end of the day, I think we're the ones that we're lucky to get to know Tony Oliva," St. Peter said.
Oliva and Kaat's induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame is the first time in franchise history that two Twins went into the Hall of Fame at the same time.
"In the same vein, ‘Kitty’ has made an indelible impact on our organization and our fans, from the 15 years he spent with the Twins/Senators franchise to his time in the broadcast booth," St. Peter said of Kaat in a team release.
Starting in 1959, Kaat played in the major leagues for 25 years and won 283 career games, 190 with the Twins, which is still a franchise career high. During his time, he also earned 16 Gold Gloves, which is awarded to the best fielding pitcher.
"I don't look at it as if I made the Hall of Fame. I am lucky I had hundreds of people that supported me that are going to allow me to stand there on that stage in Cooperstown," Kaat said.
Now, Kaat has his theories on why he had to wait for more than 40 years to be selected for the Hall of Fame.
"I've studied this over the years. And I think one of the reasons that I had not been inducted or voted in was I never was really a say, a number one like Bert," he told KARE 11. "You look at the other starters in the Hall of Fame, most of them are what you would call dominant. I never really considered myself a dominant pitcher. I did it over a period of time."
In 1973, Twins owner Calvin Griffith traded Kaat to the Chicago White Sox. He went on later to play for the Phillies, Yankees and Cardinals, but "Kitty" will still represent Minnesota in the Hall of Fame.
"You know, from a Twins perspective, I think Jim has probably been a little underappreciated just because the way his career took a turn and he left the Twins and went on to play so many years and other places," St. Peter told KARE 11.
At 83 years old, Kaat has now been a part of Major League Baseball for 63 years and doesn't plan on retiring any time soon.
"It's the superlative of the superlatives. To have two men, as classy as they both are, to go in at the same time, former teammates. Pillars of the baseball community," Tom Kelly, the former manager for the Twins, told KARE 11.
Both Kaat and Oliva were selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the league's Golden Days Era Committee after baseball writers passed on both men.
"The thing I'm most excited for is to see both of those men on that stage with their peers," St. Peter said. "That, to me, is, is the memory that I want to take away from Cooperstown to see them win their rightful spot on the stage with the greatest players to have ever played our game."
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