Expecting a perfunctory meeting about logistics for Cooperstown, Jim Kaat joined a Twins video call on Dec. 20. He was shocked to find Twins royalty waiting for him.
Rod Carew, Bert Blyleven, Joe Mauer, Tom Kelly, Tony Oliva and Kent Hrbek — the six living Twins whose numbers have been retired by the team — congratulated Kaat for joining their ranks. Kaat's No. 36, which he wore while winning 189 games — the most of any Twins pitcher — will be raised alongside theirs in a ceremony next summer, Carew told his former teammate.
It didn't hit him at first why the Twins greats had gathered, Kaat said. "Then when Rod began to talk about the retired numbers, I thought, 'Man, this is really cool,'" he said.
The retirement ceremony will be July 16 before a game against the Chicago White Sox, a team for which Kaat also had great success.
Kaat's 36 will be the 10th number retired by the Twins, joining Nos. 3 (Harmon Killebrew), 6 (Oliva), 7 (Mauer), 10 (Kelly), 14 (Hrbek), 28 (Blyleven), 29 (Carew), 34 (Kirby Puckett) and 42 (Jackie Robinson, retired leaguewide in 1997).
"We almost have a complete team," marveled Kaat, who became a broadcaster after he retired and still serves as an analyst for a handful of Twins games each summer. "It's such an honor. What's happened to me in the last six weeks has just been incredibly humbling. I'm so thankful to the Twins."
Kaat and former teammate Tony Oliva were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Dec. 5, ending decades of waiting for enshrinement in Cooperstown. They will be inducted on July 24, eight days after his number-retirement ceremony at Target Field.
"The winningest pitcher in Twins history — we probably should have done this a lot sooner," Twins President Dave St. Peter said. "But with Jim going into the Hall of Fame this summer, it felt like the ideal time to show our appreciation for his tremendous career."
The 83-year-old lefthander became a full-time big-leaguer in 1961, the Twins' first season in Minnesota, and he remained with the team for 13 seasons. In addition to his 189 victories, 40 more than Blyleven's second-highest total, Kaat also holds Twins records for starts (422), innings pitched (2,862), and losses. His 91 wins at Metropolitan Stadium also represent the most in that park.
By coincidence, No. 36 was also worn by the franchise's career leader in saves: Joe Nathan. Terry Steinbach, Kevin Tapani, Jerry Koosman and Joe Niekro also wore the number, and outfielder Robbie Grossman was the last Twin to do so in 2019. There's no special meaning to the number, Kaat said. "I didn't have any sentimental attachment," he said. "For some reason or other, 36 was hanging in my locker, and that's what I wore."
During his 25-season career — he pitched for the Senators before they moved to Minnesota, then the White Sox, Phillies, Yankees and Cardinals afterward — Kaat was 283-237 with a 3.45 ERA and 2,461 strikeouts in 898 games. He started 625 games and completed 180, with 31 shutouts.
A three-time All-Star, he was 25-13 in 1966, leading the major leagues with 41 starts and leading the AL in wins and complete games with 19.
Kaat is one of 29 players in major league history to appear in four different decades, and his exceptional fielding won him 16 Gold Glove Awards, second most among pitchers to Greg Maddux's 18.
As a broadcaster, Kaat has won seven Emmy Awards.