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Tag: Broadcasters

Card Corner: Jim Kaat


Throughout the new month, I’ll profile some of the former Yankees who will be coming to Cooperstown on June 21 to participate in the first-ever Hall of Fame Classic. The list of Yankee old-timers scheduled to play at Doubleday Field includes Phil Niekro, Lee Smith, Dennis Rasmussen and Kevin Maas. In the first installment, we take a fond look at the career of the man affectionately known as “Kitty.”

Jim Kaat has not thrown a meaningful pitch in more than a quarter of a century, but I can still see that pitching motion in my mind today. The photograph from his 1980 Topps card brings it all back: a delivery featuring virtually no windup and the smallest of leg kicks, accompanied by a mechanical precision. It’s no wonder that Kaat’s career lasted a marathon of 25 seasons with hardly a stay on the disabled list.

Like Bert Blyleven and Tommy John, “Kitty” is part of a contingent of longtime starters who fell just short of the 300-win club but remain on the cusp of election to the Hall of Fame. Unlike Blyleven, I’ve never given Kaat a vote in any of my mythical Hall of Fame elections, but I would not exactly shed a tear if he somehow joined the elite in Cooperstown. Though never really dominant and hardly an overwhelming collector of strikeouts, Kaat achieved a high level of successful longevity, fulfilling at least one of the requirements of Hall of Fame enshrinement.

As a pitcher, Kaat enjoyed two careers. The first spanned from 1962 to 1975, when he carved out a niche as a durable and effective starter for the Twins and White Sox. Over the course of his long tenure as a starter, I came to know Kaat for three attributes. First, he loved to throw the quick pitch, often catching hitters off guard by throwing without a windup. Second, he was a skilled and highly conditioned athlete who could run and hit better than most pitchers. (In 1973, Topps issued a card for Kaat showing him batting—not pitching—in a game for the Twins.) And third, Kaat could field his position like no other moundsman. With catlike reflexes that reinforced his nickname of Kitty, Kaat snared a record 15 Gold Gloves.


Card Corner–Billy Sample

As I avidly followed baseball in the early 1980s, some of my favorite ballplayers did not happen to play for the Yankees. One of those players was Billy Sample. He was playing for the Rangers at the time, a team with which I’ve never had any kind of affiliation. Sample wasn’t a star. He was a pretty good ballplayer, though, a speedy defensive left fielder who stole bases, hit for a decent average, and launched an occasional longball. In other words, he was a role player, one who had to overcome the stigma that comes with being five feet, nine inches tall. I’ve always liked role players, in part because they have to struggle—just like us. Little comes easy to them, but they find a way to contribute in tangible and important ways.

One winter day in 1984, I was doing some broadcasting for WHCL, the radio station for Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. As I was preparing my afternoon sports report, I noticed a transaction on the AP wire. It involved the Yankees. They had made a wintertime trade, sending an over-the-hill Toby Harrah to the Rangers—for Billy Sample. Yes!

I immediately began to think of what role Sample might play for the Yankees in 1984. Left field looked like the logical destination, perhaps in a platoon with the elder Ken Griffey. You see, the Yankees collected outfielders in the early 1980s the way that Adrian Monk collects phobias. Only stars played every day in the Yankee outfield back then, Hall of Famers like Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson. A player like Sample, a complementary role player, appeared destined to platoon in pinstripes.

Even so, a timeshare in left field looked appealing to Sample, who was glad to be out of Texas, a team that had lost 92 games. He also looked forward to playing for a new leader in Yogi Berra, a man with a reputation for being the consummate player’s manager. Unfortunately, no one could have anticipated that Berra would manage the Yankees for a mere 16 games in 1985. An early managerial changeover brought the worst of possible successors for Sample—the fourth pinstriped tenure of Billy Martin.


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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver