"He said there were three teams that were looking for a veteran starter. The Pirates, the Mets and the Phillies. He said, 'If I had a chance, where would you like to go?' I said, 'I've been following this Phillies team and they're getting better every year. I'd love to get a chance to play for the Philadelphia Phillies.'"
Sure enough, on December 10, 1975 Kaat and Mike Buskey were traded to the Phillies for Alan Bannister, Dick Ruthven and Roy Thomas.
• Catching up with Phillies alumni
Kaat, who retired with 283 career wins in 1983, was prescient. This is the 40th anniversary of the 1976 season when the Phillies finished first for the first time since 1950. They won the National League East the next two seasons as well. His contract was purchased by the Yankees in May, 1979. He retired in 1983, at the age of 44, with 283 career wins.
When the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee voted in 2015, Kaat missed election by just two votes.
"Unfortunately, I didn't have my best performance in my years with the Phillies," he said. "I came from the White Sox where I was starting 42, 43 games a year. Chuck Tanner pitched me a lot. And he had told the Phillies and Danny Ozark, the more you pitch him, the more effective he'll be. Danny didn't see it that way. He kind of pitched me sporadically, so I never really was a peak performer with the Phillies individually. But as a team, they were the most talented teams I was ever on."
He spent two seasons as a pitching coach for the Reds but has primarily worked as an award-winning broadcaster, including stints with the Yankees and Twins. Now 77, he works a dozen games a year with Bob Costas on the MLB Network.
"I play a lot of golf. So I really enjoy a perfect schedule. I stay involved enough with the game to try to stay current and try to understand how teams these days are using analytics. Combine that with on-field experience that I know about. So it's a perfect blend," he said.
One of the keys to his success as a player was that he worked diligently to become an excellent fielder, good enough to amass 16 Gold Gloves. Another was that he only had one serious arm injury in a career that spanned four different decades.
The reason for that, he believes, is that he pitched only sparingly in high school and college and was never concerned with trying to throw the ball as hard as he could. There's a greater emphasis on velocity these days and the demands of playing longer schedules and on travel teams can be harmful. "I hear it from the parents all the time, 'My kid throws 91.' So all the emphasis is on power and we see a combination of things. We see young pitchers who can throw harder. But we also see a lot of pitchers who are breaking down," he said.
"[Noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews] explained it so well. He said it's like taking a coat hanger and you're gradually twisting it. You're twisting it and you twist it and eventually it breaks. So they're putting too much stress on that arm at too young an age, when their bones and bodies aren't developed."
Even a mature pitcher is vulnerable to overwork. He was 7-0 with a 1.51 earned run average down the stretch, but also had pitched 65 2/3 innings in those games when his ulnar collateral ligament tore. "It was against the Red Sox. If we won, we won the pennant," he said.
"They didn't have the [Tommy John] surgery then, so I just let it heal on its own. I pitched about three years at maybe 75-80 percent, but I didn't miss any time," he said. Not only did he not miss any time, he averaged more than 225 innings per year over the next three seasons.
He jumped at the opportunity to work with young Phillies pitchers this spring. "I don't have any particular agenda. I just wanted to share some ideas that worked for me. Just hang around and pass on whatever I'd learned from guys like Bobby Shantz and Whitey Ford and Warren Spahn that helped me in my career," he said.