The party planning has begun more than half a year in advance, and oh what a party it will be.
On July 24, 2022, Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, becoming the fifth and sixth players to be enshrined as Twins. Minnesotans and Twins fans from across the country are expected to descend on Cooperstown to watch the pair of Twins legends be honored.
“In our view, both Tony and Jim have been Hall of Famers for a long, long time, but (Sunday’s) news gives us all an excuse to throw a really big party in Cooperstown in July,” Twins president and CEO Dave St. Peter said.
Heading into Sunday, the Twins didn’t know whether they would end up with one, two or no new Hall of Famers. That both 83-year-olds, who were longtime former teammates, wound up getting the requisite 12 of 16 (75 percent) votes from the Golden Days Era committee makes it all the more special for the Twins organization and Oliva and Kaat themselves.
Kaat pitched for the Twins from 1961 through 1973 (and spent two years with the Washington Senators before that). Oliva played for the Twins from 1962-1976, truly bursting onto the scene in 1964 when he won the Rookie of the Year Award for a stellar season during which he led the league in hitting.
“That was special for me because Jim Kaat, when I started, he was already a big-league ballplayer,” Oliva said of being elected with Kaat. “He was a superstar. He took care of me. Many times, it was like he was babysitting me.”
Oliva recalled a time once in Anaheim when Kaat took him, then a young player who didn’t speak much English, out to eat Mexican food, paying for the taxi ride, and another in Oakland when Kaat took him out to get buffalo steaks. He called Kaat a model teammate — someone who took him under his wing — and a model ballplayer.
“I’ve been telling people that he should have been in the Hall of Fame a long time ago, for all those games he played and all of those games he won and the kind of person (he is),” Oliva said. “I’m so proud that he finally made it and we’ll go together into the Hall of Fame. I think it’s going to make everything a lot easier for me because I’m a chicken. You know, I get very nervous.”
Kaat spoke of Oliva with similar reverence. Last week, before being elected, Kaat said he considered Oliva and Dick Allen, who was also on the Golden Days Era ballot, among two of his favorite former teammates.
With both narrowly missing the last time they were on the ballot, Kaat said he was really hopeful the pair would make it — and if he did himself, that would be a bonus. While Allen missed out again, Kaat is grateful to have a chance to be inducted alongside Oliva.
“He was such a complete player and a great teammate,” Kaat said. “I’m so honored to go in with him.”
Six players were voted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday — Oliva, Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Gil Hodges, Buck O’Neil and Bud Fowler. Oliva and Kaat are the only two of that group still living. They could potentially be joined by players from the writers’ ballot.
But either way, July 24 in Cooperstown will have a distinct Minnesota Twins flavor.
Before the results were revealed, St. Peter predicted an unprecedented number of Minnesotans would make the trip to Cooperstown this summer, particularly if Oliva were to be elected.
Now, with both Oliva and Kaat in, the party is really on.
“(Sunday) was a great day to be a Twin, a tremendous day in the history of our franchise (and) a momentous day for our state,” St. Peter said. “… The Twins could not be more proud to have these two men sporting our beloved ‘TC’ on their caps in Cooperstown.”