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Does This Yankee Belong in the Hall-of-Fame? Jim Kaat

by Paul Semendinger

November 25, 2021

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I will be taking a look at the former Yankees being considered for e3lection into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

FROM THE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME:

(COOPERSTOWN, NY) – The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum today announced the 10-person ballots that will be considered by its Early Baseball Era Committee and Golden Days Era Committee for Hall of Fame election for the Class of 2022. These Era Committees will both meet on Dec. 5 at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla. Seven Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues legends and three American League/National League stars comprise the 10-name Early Baseball Era ballot, which features candidates whose primary contribution to the game came prior to 1950. The Golden Days Era Committee considers candidates whose primary contribution to the game came from 1950-69. The Early Baseball Era ballot includes Bill Dahlen, John Donaldson, Bud Fowler, Vic Harris, Grant “Home Run” Johnson, Lefty O’Doul, Buck O’Neil, Dick “Cannonball” Redding, Allie Reynolds and George “Tubby” Scales. All of these candidates are deceased. The Golden Days Era ballot includes Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Roger Maris, Minnie Miñoso, Danny Murtaugh, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce and Maury Wills. Of this group, Kaat, Oliva and Wills are living. The results of the Early Baseball Era Committee vote and the Golden Days Era Committee vote will be announced live on MLB Network’s “MLB Tonight” at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, Dec. 5.

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In this article, I will look at the candidacy of Jim Kaat.

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Is there a case that longevity should gain a player admission into the Hall of Fame? If there is, then Jim Kaat probably has a case.

In this history of Major League Baseball, only ten players have played in 25 or more seasons. Let’s break that down for a moment. There is an argument to be made that it takes a very special skill to be able to maintain the skills necessary to play in the Major Leagues for a quarter of a century. That, in and of itself, is no small feat.

Here are the ten players who played 25 or more years:

25 Years:

Eddie Collins – he’s in the Hall of Fame

Bobby Wallace – he’s in the Hall of Fame

Charlie Hough

Jim Kaat

Jamie Moyer

Rickey Henderson – he’s in the Hall of Fame

26 Years:

Tommy John

Deacon McGuire

27 Years:

Cap Anson – he’s in the Hall of Fame

Nolan Ryan – he’s in the Hall of Fame

If one makes the argument that a long career should be a qualifier for the Hall of Fame (the same way that 3,000 hits or 300 wins is (most often) a qualifier) then the Baseball Hall of Fame would have to open its doors to five new members. Of those five, four were pitchers who Jim Kaat, Tommy John, Jamie Moyer, and Charlie Hough whose careers, in aggregate, overlapped. (I will absent Deacon McGuire from the discussion here. He was a catcher who played from 1884-1908. He then played in one game in 1910 and one game again in 1912.)

Let’s take a look at these four pitchers:

Jim Kaat: 1959-1983 (50.5 career WAR)

Tommy John: 1963-1989 (61.6 career WAR)

Charlie Hough: 1970-1994 (38.4 career WAR)

Jamie Moyer: 1986-2010, 2012 (49.8 career WAR)

Of these four, Tommy John ranks the highest. He ranks 77th all-time among starting pitchers. I have previously argued that Tommy John should be elected to the Hall of Fame.

The case for the other three pitchers is much more difficult to make. By career WAR, Jim Kaat and Jamie Moyer are almost identical. The problem is that the players around them, save for two, don’t have a Hall of Fame case. These pitchers are: Tommy Bridges, Silver King, Felix Hernandez, Mark Langston, Roy Oswalt, Wilbur Wood, Eddie Rommel, and Dizzy Trout. I believe there will be an argument for Felix Hernandez to get consideration. They player who ranks immediately after Jamie Moyer on the all-time list is… Sandy Koufax.

Kaat and Moyer accumulated their WAR through longevity. Is that a qualifier for the Hall of Fame? If so, it is a tough case to make.

I stopped the years played list at 25 years, but if one were to make the list just one year longer, it would include non-Hall of Famers Omar Vizquel, Jesse Orosco, and Rick Dempsey. I don’t think there is an argument for Orosco or Dempsey to ever be considered Hall of Famers.

Playing for a quarter of a century is a great accomplishment, I don’t think it’s a qualifier in and of itself.

As such, how else could a case be made for Jim Kaat?

Wins – Of the all time leaders in wins from 1900 on, there is only one non-PED pitcher who has more wins than Kaat and who is not in the Hall of Fame. That pitcher is (again) Tommy John. John won 288 games. Jim Kaat is just behind at 283. (The next non Hall of Fame pitcher on the list is Jamie Moyer with 269 wins.)

Jim Kaat played most of his career for second division clubs. If he had just 17 more wins, it is likely that he would be in the Hall of Fame. He is that close. Just 17 wins over 25 seasons. He needed just 1.4 more wins a season and he’d most likely be in already.

Awards – This is where Jim Kaat’s candidacy gets very interesting. VERY interesting. Only three players have won 15 or more Gold Gloves. Two of those players, Greg Maddux (18) and Brooks Robinson (16) are in the Hall of Fame. Jim Kaat won 16 Gold Gloves. Putting one of the greatest fielding pitchers in the Hall of Fame wouldn’t be a stretch. Other players (Luis Aparicio, Bill Mazeroski) are in the Hall of Fame primarily for their fielding prowess.

This is where it gets tricky.

Kaat is among the most elite players in history in years played. He ranks among the most awarded Gold Glovers ever. His all time win total is among the most ever among pitchers not yet in the Hall-of-Fame.

A case can be made…

Of the Baseball-Reference ten most similar players to Kaat, seven are in the Hall of Fame. The other three are Frank Tanana and (you guessed it) Jamie Moyer and Tommy John.

A case can be made…

But, I don’t think it’s quite strong enough.

If Tommy John were in, maybe I’d vote for Kaat, but, I don’t feel he’s the next best deserving candidate who is not in the Hall of Fame.

Jim Kaat has a compelling case, but I think he comes up just short.

#JimKaat

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