Kaat, a three-time American League All Star and 16-time Gold Glove Award winner, spent his 25-year career with the Washington Senators (1959-1960), Minnesota Twins (1961-73) Chicago White Sox (1973-1975), Philadelphia Phillies (1976-1979), New York Yankees (1979-1980), and St. Louis Cardinals (1980-1983). Following retirement, Kaat began an award-winning broadcasting career, including roles with NBC, ESPN, CBS and the YES Network, before joining MLB Network in 2009. Kaat is the recipient of seven New York Emmy Awards for sports broadcasting and in March of 2010, he was nominated for a Sports Emmy Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for his work at MLB Network in the Outstanding Sports Personality category. Kaat is currently a candidate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, having been placed on this year’s Golden Era ballot.
Prior to Studio 42 with Bob Costas, MLB Network’s block of offseason programming will air, including Intentional Talk at 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. ET, Clubhouse Confidential at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. ET, and MLB Network’s offseason show of record Hot Stove at 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. ET.
Highlights from the conversation with Kaat include:
On facing Hall of Famer Ted Williams:
I remember turning around to John Schaive, our second baseman, and I just said, “Can you believe it? I’m facing Teddy Ballgame.” That’s how we were then because there wasn’t the exposure on television. So Ted Williams to me was a bubblegum card. He wasn’t a real person.
Nowadays, kids come up and I think they’re more comfortable because they’re seeing so many games on television. When I first faced Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams and guys like that, it [was] literally your bubblegum cards coming to life.
On facing Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle:
It was always a special case when you got to face Mickey Mantle because it was kind of an all-or-nothing [at bat]. You might strike him out and then he might hit a moon shot, which he did seven times [against me].
On pitching against Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax three times in the 1965 World Series:
We won Game Two and then we never got another sniff. He shut us out in Game Five and Game Seven. You truly had to see him in person to realize [that], with no disrespect to any of the pitchers in today’s era, in my baseball lifetime, nobody touched him.
On his relationship with former Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith:
I had a contract squabble with Calvin every year. … Calvin one day said, “Can you go downtown … and earn 18,000 dollars a year working at any place in Minneapolis? I would say, “Can you go out on Cedar Avenue and find a left-handed pitcher who can win 18 games for you?”
On winning 283 career games and his National Baseball of Fame Chances:
I wasn’t Secretariat. I was that number three horse that can go to the post every week and get a check for you. … I wasn’t what you a call a perennial number one. I don’t say that to be overly modest. I’ve just looked at my career pretty objectively [and] I’ve said, “I’ve lived in the hall of enjoyment for 25 seasons and you can’t beat that.”
On his former teammate and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew:
There is no more admired athlete in the Midwest than Harmon Killebrew. … I don’t know that anybody has met a Hall of Famer that was more gracious or classy as Harmon. … I’ll never forget his Hall of Fame speech. … He was telling the story about [how] he and his brother were digging up the grass in the front yard and his mother said to his Dad, “The boys are tearing up the lawn,” and his Dad said, “We’re not raising grass here, we’re raising boys.” And they raised a good one, he was a real thoroughbred.
He was quote, “A pure slugger.” He [wouldn’t] hit for a high average, he wasn’t an outstanding defensive player. I don’t think I ever saw him lose his balance on a swing. He had that classic home run swing and if you made mistake middle-in early in the count, you were going to see a moon shot.
On learning how to field his position from Bobby Shantz:
Bob Elson, known as “The Commander,” the voice of the [Chicago] White Sox, would say, “Bobby Shantz pitching today, little 5’-7” left-hander. He delivers the ball, he lands on the balls of his feet, he’s ready to go either way.” I [would] go in the backyard with a tennis ball, bounce it off the garage. Fast-forward [to] 1958 Spring Training, we’re doing our pitching drills, Walter “Boom-Boom” Beck, my coach said, “Kid, you look just like Bobby Shantz.” I kind of mimicked Bobby and that’s where I got my model to how to field my position.
On his keys to pitching:
[By] pitching fast, not taking much time between pitches, and having a quick motion, we [would] play a game in one hour and thirty [minutes]. Hitters want time to get comfortable and if pitchers worked at a quicker pace and they wouldn’t give them time to get set, I think they’d be more effective with less than dominant stuff.
On playing in Minnesota:
We were just kind of a town team. You had a car dealer that would give you a car for the season in exchange for an appearance. I would walk out to the player’s parking lot after the game and sometimes some of the fans would be there and you would walk right along with them. Security wasn’t an issue. It was such a great wholesome atmosphere and they were so thrilled to have big league baseball. Even though the first year we were not a contending team, but we were so well accepted and it was a great place to play.
On his one wish in baseball today:
I wish that at some point, they would have, once a homestand, a real turn-back-the-clock day. We go to the park, there would be no rock-and-roll music, it would be nice and quiet, you can hear the ball hit the bat. The teams would come out and take two rounds of infield practice. … [We] watch the infield [practice], you can hear the vendor two sections down say, “Hotdogs!” We could just sit and watch the game on a nice lazy afternoon. That would be [my] one big wish.