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Monday, January 13, 2014

One Gritty Left Hander

I suppose I have done quite enough commentary on the original Twins, especially that core group that traveled as one-time Washington Senators to the Twin Cities of St. Paul  and Minneapolis in 1961. It really did define my life as a twenty-something, being a zealous fan of the pennant and World Series winning teams of 1987 and 1991. And at the moment, I'm preparing a piece on a Twin from the last decade that "got away," but for now...

The career odyssey and skills of Jim Kaat still grab my attention. The photo below was taken during the game of Saturday, August 19, 1961 , at Wrigley Field, the first home of the spankin' new Los Angeles Angels.

Besides the fact that it looks odd to us today in the era of the designated hitter, a pitcher on the base paths as an offensive ballplayer, it is also notable for the grit with with which pitchers like Kaat played the game (newspaper story, hit in face by batted ball, '62). He and other hurlers really were total baseball players, who could also hit, hit with some power, and competently run the bases. Today, it would merit a spot on ESPN's Sports Center highlights recap. If you like my newspaper attachments, here is another of Kaat (Farmington Daily Times July 25, 1962) getting familiar with the turf.


The caption correctly states he is safe while sliding into third, playing a version of the childhood game of leap frog with veteran third sacker Eddie "The Walking Man" YostYost began his career, ironically, in 1944 with the Washington Senators, the original franchise that signed Kaat. Unmentioned is that Kaat was advancing there on a bunt by his second baseman, shy and demure Billy Martin (see photo).

The picture above also reminds me of the sliding injury he suffered while running the bases 11 seasons later, in 1972. He was having a career year when , on July 2, he was injured. While sliding the bases in the 6th inning,  Kaat broke his thumb on his pitching hand (Hardball Times story). It would effectively end his season. Also of irony, this was the last game he would play before the adoption of the designated hitter rule by the American League for 1973. 

For now, I parrot the old master of the mic in saying:

"So long, everybody!" (Herb Carneal)

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