Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva inducted into the Hall of Fame

COOPERSTOUN, New York – A modest little baseball lies at the bottom of a display case for David Ortiz on the third floor of the Hall of Fame. No hologram, no complex markings. In thick black ink just below the red-stitched horseshoe, someone scrawled “First HR.” Beneath this lighter pen: “The Big Show.”

On that day, September 10, the Big Papi Show was still in pre-production. September 14, 1997, when Ortiz hit the first of 541 home runs en route to the first vote here on Sunday. Years with the Boston Red Sox made him a standout star, but when he hit his first homer, he was playing for the Minnesota Twins.

Other inductees this weekend have come a long way here, elected by small committee vote in December: Bud Fowler, Jill Hodges, Minnie Mignoso, Buck O’Neill and two other living members, Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva, who will represent the Twins – the same franchise that released Ortiz in 2002, shortly before his Boston breakthrough.

“I won’t have as many support options as Big Papi,” Kaat recently said, “if they don’t have, for example, long-lasting Duracell batteries.”

Kaat and Oliva were born in 1938 and spent a total of 30 seasons in the Twins franchise. Their introduction means that five Hall of Famers played for the Twins from 1970 to 1973, including Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, and Bert Blyleven.

During the split-play era, no team had more than five Hall of Famers at any one time, according to Hall of Fame research. Besides the Twins, five others are the 1970 Chicago Cubs, the 1980 Boston Red Sox, and the 1982 and 1984 Milwaukee Brewers. Neither team won the World Series as Ortiz did three times with the Red Sox, but the 1970 Twins, who were 98–64, had the best regular season record in the group.

“You had to play really well to beat them,” said Hall of Famer pitcher Jim Palmer, whose Baltimore Orioles beat the Twins in a best-of-five American League championship series that fall, repeating their 1969 feat. really good balance – power, some speed, good handling and great fans in an old stadium.”

Kaat spent his first two seasons with the original Washington Senators, who moved to Bloomington, Minnesota about two weeks after Bill Matheroski returned to Pittsburgh to defeat the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series. This was the beginning of the expansion era and part of the resurgence of the franchise movement.

“I reported to the study league club on October 10th. On December 26, 1960, I had senators on my chest, and by the end of the day they were twins,” Kaat said. “That was the day the Washington Senators became twins.

“We, as players, thought it was a great move, because we remembered what a positive move for the Braves was the move from Boston to Milwaukee. Little things like we heard they make deals to get a car to drive during the season and stuff like that. So coming here when MLB was new and welcomed with open arms, I mean performance was secondary. The fans here were just happy to have major league baseball.”

However, after a debut season with 90 defeats, the game was extraordinary. The Twins won 817 games from 1962 to 1970, more than any other AL team except the Orioles. Kaat was one of the best pitchers of the era, winning 146 games in those seasons, trailing only Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal.

Oliva arrived for good in 1964, winning the Rookie of the Year award and the first of three batting titles. He was one of several Cuban players signed by Senators/Twins scout Joe Cambria, including 1965 AL’s Most Valuable Player Award winner, shortstop Zoilo Versales. The environment aided the transition for Oliva, who never played for another team.

“I remember Jim Kaat said to me, ‘You’ll feel right at home because a third of the club are Cubans,'” Oliva said. “I was so happy to be here with the Minnesota Twins because I felt at home here. In those days, I didn’t speak a word of English, and they took care of me, babysitting me. They were very nice, all those Cubans.”

Knee injuries robbed Oliva of the longevity of many of his contemporaries; he finished with a .304 batting average but only 1,917 career hits. He was also not a singles hitter, once leading the league in hitting percentage and finishing with 220 homers, more than 13 club members with 3,000 hits.

“Everyone says, ‘What’s the highlight of your career, the shutout against Sandy Koufax in the World Series?'” Palmer said. “I’ll tell Tony, ‘No, the day I hit you twice.’ Wally Bunker said: “Tony Oliva – oh, leave us alone!”

Oliva hit .344 in his career against Palmer (although he never batted him) and penalized another Hall of Famer, Catfish Hunter, for a .333 batting average and eight homers. He hit .314 in three postseason streaks.

Before two ALCS losses to the Orioles, the Twins lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1965 World Series. Kaat beat Koufax in the second game (after Koufax refused to serve the first match because it fell on Yom Kippur), but lost to him in games 5 and 7.

“I was pretty realistic in ’65 – I mean, in order to try and get a couple of runs from Koufax, we were lucky that we got two of them in the second game and one of them wasn’t earned.” Kaat said. “So it doesn’t mean that we failed the series or anything like that. And then, of course, I thought we’d be back. When you’re in your 20s and have a good team: “Oh, we’ll be back.”

The twins went into decline in the early 1970s, even with all those Hall of Famers, and dropped Kaat in 1973. He resurrected his career by winning 20 consecutive seasons with the Chicago White Sox under pitching coach Johnny Sane and then rebounded. to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Yankees, and finally St. Louis. Louis Cardinals.

There, in 1982, Kaat earned a championship ring when the Cardinals beat the Brewers and their Cooperstown quartet of Paul Molitor, Ted Simmons, Don Sutton and Robin Yount (closer Rollie Fingers was injured). By that time, all the other participants in the 1965 World Series had retired.

“This 17-year wait was the longest any player has ever had to wait to return to the World Series,” Kaat said. “And then I got the World Series ring – I learned this from the Elias Sports Bureau – no athlete in any professional sport has played 24 seasons before getting a championship ring. That’s why this ’82 season was worth the wait and very rewarding.”

The Twins finally won the World Series in 1987 with Kirby Puckett in the lead, and again four years later. But these teams couldn’t match their early ’70s predecessors in Hall of Fame membership, where Kaat and Oliva – that long-lived duo – will now have plaques forever.