The Hall of Fame focus around Kansas City has been on late KC Royals scout and Monarchs legend Buck O’Neil since Sunday when the Early Baseball Era Committee selected him for membership in Cooperstown.
Almost overlooked in the local O’Neil celebration, but never while they played against the Royals, were Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva, who the Golden Days Era Committee voted into the Hall at the same time O’Neil made it in. The former Twins teammates were impossible for the Royals to forget, much less overlook, during their careers.
They punished Kansas City, boosting their statistics with excellent numbers against a team they faced for the first time in its inaugural season.
But more on that momentarily. No account of Kaat or Oliva is complete without recapping their now Hall of Fame careers.
The KC Royals had plenty of reasons to respect Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva.
Kaat was the big league epitome of longevity and stamina. He debuted with the old Washington Senators in 1959, then moved with them to Minnesota in 1961 and pitched 14½ years in the Twin Cities before making stops with the White Sox, Phillies, Yankees, and finally the Cardinals before retiring after the 1983 season.
“Kitty” appeared in 898 games, started 625, completed 180, and won 283. He threw 31 shutouts and his career 3.45 ERA is one many pitchers would love to have for just one season. He was a three-time 20-game winner (25 in 1966), won 16 Gold Gloves (including six in a row), and made the American League All-Star team three times. The lefthander averaged just under 6.2 innings per start.
Oliva broke in with the Twins in 1962 but played so sparingly that season and the next that he didn’t reach rookie limits until 1964. Playing regularly for the first time, Oliva hit .323, led the majors in hits with 217 and total bases with 374, paced the AL in average, runs, and doubles, and was named AL Rookie of the Year. He also made the All-Star team for the first of eight straight seasons.
Although injuries haunted Oliva in his baseball twilight, he still finished with a .304/.353/476 line, 1,917 hits, and three AL batting titles. He hit a career high .337 and slugged .546 in 1971, and won a Gold Glove in 1966.
But how did Kaat and Oliva fare against the Royals?