erik lundegaard

Monday July 25, 2022

Now We Are Six: Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat Inducted Into Baseball Hall of Fame

† ††

The Minnesota Twins increased its Hall of Fame count by 50% yesterday. We went in with four and came out with six.

Chronologically, it goes like this:

  • 1984: Harmon Killebrew (fourth ballot)
  • 1991: Rod Carew (first ballot)
  • 2001: Kirby Puckett (first ballot)
  • 2011: Bert Blyleven (14th ballot)
  • July 24, 2022: Jim Kaat (Veteranís Committee)
  • July 24, 2022: Tony Oliva (Veteranís Committee)

Five of those guys were playing on the 1969-71 team I grew up on. I knew not what I had.

Actually, I kind of did. I knew it was special. And I remember when it went away.

Itís interesting to see how we lost each of them. In mid-August 1973 the Twins placed Jim Kaat on waivers, where he was selected by the Chicago White Sox, for whom, over the next two full seasons he went 21-13 and 20-14, with ERAs around 3.00; he pitched for 10 more years. We released Harmon Killebrew in January 1975 and a week later he signed with the Kansas City Royals for his final season. In June 1976, we traded Bert Blyleven (and shortstop Danny Thompson) to Texas for four guys (Roy Smalley, Mike Cubbage, Bill Singer, Jim Gideon), plus $250k, and he pitched for another, what, 15 years? Including four more with the Twins: 1985-88. His last season was 1992. Wow. Rod Carew became our 1970s superstar, but then owner Calvin Griffith opened his piehole at a Lions Club gathering in the fall of 1978, saying he moved the team from D.C. to Minnesota ďwhen we found out you only had 15,000 blacks here.Ē Carew asked to make that number 14,999. In January 1979 we traded him to California for Dave Engle, Paul Hartzell, Brad Havens and Kenny Landreaux. He would play another seven seasons and retire with a .328 lifetime batting average.

Oliva never left. He retired after the í76 season due to knee injuries but stayed with the organization in other roles. As the Star-Tribune mentioned today, heís a 61-year employee.

I have to say, the new plaques arenít bad. OK, so maybe Oliva's eyebrows are too thick, while Kaat looks more combative and chin-heavy than he should. He could pass for Thanos' kid brother here. Yet, I don't know, something in the eyes is exactly right. Bronze relief is always an iffy proposition. Itís not a medium that captures likenesses well. Of our six, the Killebrew one is probably best, Carew†the worst. Never show them smiling would be my motto. Teeth donít work well in bronze.

I still find it fascinatingly wrong that the best player on that team, by career bWAR, is Bert Blyleven, and itís not even close. By career bWAR, Blyleven is the 38th greatest player in baseball history, pitcher or player, sandwiched between Roberto Clemente and Cap Anson, and ahead of, among others, Bob Gibson, George Brett and Ken Griffey Jr. Either we missed a lot or bWAR is.

Hereís how our guys do by other HOF measures. You get points for black ink when you lead the league in a noteworthy category, gray ink when youíre in the top 10.

PLAYER WAR BLACK INK GRAY INK HOF MONITOR
Harmon Killebrew 60.3 48 193 178
Rod Carew 81.2 42 148 243
Kirby Puckett 51.2 22 122 160
Bert Blyleven 94.5 16 237 121
Jim Kaat 50.5 16 125 130
Tony Oliva 43.0 41 146 114
AVG. HOF player n/a 27 144 100
AVG. HOF pitcher n/a 40 185 100

Our two pitchers were guys that lasted, our two most recent position players, Puckett and Oliva, had short careers. They were comets across the skyóOliva in particular. In a career shortened by knee injuries, he led the league in hits five times, doubles four times, batting average three times, slugging percentage once, total bases once, runs scored once. He dominated American League pitchers in a pitchers' era.

By all those measures, he's a Hall of Famer. Glad he finally got his due. Glad to see he is where he should be.

May I present the latest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Posted at 08:38 AM on Monday July 25, 2022 in category Baseball  
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