Jim Souhan
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While waiting for a phone call he feared would never come, Jim Kaat said time was "moving backwards."

If Hall of Fame director Jane Forbes Clark called between 5:15 and 5:45 last Sunday evening, Kaat would be inducted into the Hall of Fame. If she didn't, he would remain without the career-defining honor he craved.

A little after 5:30, Kaat, 83, told his wife that he was out of luck again. Then a call came, from an area code he didn't associate with Cooperstown. He answered and heard Clark's voice.

That's when time really began moving backwards.

He received a call from the college teammate with whom he shared pitching duties at Hope College, Al Kober. As seniors, they divided their team's 84 innings equally, Kober pitching from the right and Kaat from the left.

Kober went into insurance. Kaat went to the big leagues.

Kent Hrbek called. Memorabilia businesses showed sudden interest in his availability. Kaat began thinking about his time with the Twins and teammate Tony Oliva, who will be inducted alongside Kaat.

Kaat remembered Oliva showing up from Cuba, failing to get signed in his first spring training and wanting to return to his homeland. Instead, Oliva began working on his fielding.

"I think Tony is more proud of his one Gold Glove than his three batting titles, because when I first saw him he couldn't get a glove on a fly ball," Kaat said.

The Twins were renowned for signing Cuban players. "At that time, I don't think many people knew what the 'TC' on our baseball caps stood for,' " Kaat said. "So I'd tell them it meant 'Twenty Cubans.' "

Jim Kaat's career statistics

Kaat and Oliva played on teams with fellow Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew. They fell short of winning a World Series because of Sandy Koufax's Dodgers in 1965, and a great Orioles team that beat them in the 1969 and 1970 ALCS.

Kaat became friends with Orioles star Brooks Robinson, who once asked Kaat if he had added velocity to his fastball. Kaat would tell him, "No, I'm just not giving you time to get ready.''

Kaat was known for a pitching motion that barely paused as he received the throw from the catcher, a habit that might save modern baseball dozens of minutes of lethargy every game, and maybe a few million fans.

He wrote "Study long, study wrong" on his glove and delighted in "working fast and throwing strikes."

That qualifies Kaat to be the commissioner of baseball.

Jim Kaat in 1966, when he won 25 games for the Twins.
Jim Kaat in 1966, when he won 25 games for the Twins.

AP

Kaat deserved to make the Hall as a pitcher and a broadcaster. As a young Twin, he was interviewed by Halsey Hall and Ray Scott. "They asked me what my plans were for after my career," Kaat said. "I was 22. I thought I would play forever. But I did tell them that what they did seems like fun."

The next day, he received a call from KSMM radio in Shakopee. He broke into the broadcast business by calling Lake Conference prep games with Tony Parker, and delivering morning livestock reports. "I didn't see it as a career," he said.

In 1977, he joined Phillies broadcast legends Richie Ashburn and Harry Kalas in the booth. The next day, he received a call from Jody Shapiro of Major League Baseball Productions. Shapiro told him he had a future in broadcasting.

Kaat would call Class AAA and college games, then spent six years as a Twins analyst.

In the '90s, Brent Musburger recommended him to CBS and later Tony Kubek, upon retirement, recommended him to the MSG Network. He would broadcast Yankees games from 1995 to 2006, cementing his reputation as one of the most insightful announcers in sports.

He called this a "whirlwind" of a week, and quickly began making plans for the induction ceremony in Cooperstown this summer.

He plans to stay with an old friend he hadn't talked to for 55 years.

"Al Kober has a place in Utica with three bedrooms," Kaat said. "So, I'm going to get a chance to see my old teammate again."