Buck O'Neil, Gil Hodges and four others elected to the Hall of Fame

Jim Kaat’s father John raised him thanks to the stories of his baseball hero, Lefty Grove, who defined pitching dominance in the years l...


Jim Kaat’s father John raised him thanks to the stories of his baseball hero, Lefty Grove, who defined pitching dominance in the years leading up to WWII. When Grove was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1947, John Kaat made the pilgrimage to Cooperstown, NY, to see him.

Jim Kaat would also make numerous trips to Cooperstown, reveling in the chance to walk among the legends. He appeared in the Hall of Fame Game in 1966, the day Ted Williams and Casey Stengel gave their speeches, and has returned over the years to honor his teammates on their inductions – Harmon Killebrew, Mike Schmidt, Bruce Sutter and Moreover.

Now Kaat, at 83, will have his own plaque in the gallery, as one of six alumni elected by two committees that met in Orlando, Fla. On Sunday, Kaat’s former teammate of the Minnesota Twins, Tony Oliva, also 83, was also elected, along with Gil Hodges, Minnie Miñoso, Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil.

All of the applicants had been vetted and ignored before, including Hodges, Miñoso and O’Neil while they were still alive. The path to the Hall can be difficult for some, and Kaat looked almost sheepish about his place in a room reserved for the sports giants.

“There must be Hall of Fame degrees,” Kaat said. “I think they probably have a back row for me and I’ll say hello to those guys up there. But it’s pretty awesome to think about it. I know when my career ended Bowie Kuhn told me it was the longest career for a pitcher in history.

Kuhn, a former Major League Baseball commissioner, was right: Kaat’s career spanned 25 seasons and was his longest when he retired in 1983. Nolan Ryan now holds the record for pitching seasons, with 27 , as well as the strikeouts and no-hitting records. Ryan is one of those undisputed Hall of Famers, those who took the express path to immortality with a first-round inductee by screenwriters’ vote.

Domination was not Kaat’s game. He completed 180 games, won 16 gold gloves and went 283-237 with an earned run average of 3.45. But he’s also the first Integration-Age Hall of Fame pitcher (since 1947) to average more than one hit per set (9.2 of nine). He has spent most of his last five seasons as a situation reliever.

“I’ve never really been a Eternal No. 1 pitcher,” Kaat said, mentioning Grove, Warren Spahn, Greg Maddux and more. “All of those pitchers were # 1 pitchers. I evolved, a few years, to be # 1 pitchers, but I wasn’t the guy who just said, ‘You’re going to start opening day for. 10 years.” I understood that and I know a lot of people in the past the writers said it took him too long to accomplish what he did.

Candidates with brighter stats – but much more complicated legacies – could join the 2022 class next month, when the Hall announces the results of the writers’ ballot, which features David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez for the first time, and Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling for the last. Players who are not elected by the writers may later enter 16-person committees – or, as Bob Costas put it on MLB Network, “the baseball appeals court.”

The composition of the jury, whose individual votes are kept secret, can strongly influence the result. Harold Baines, a longtime Chicago White Sox star, was elected in December 2018 by a committee that included Chicago team president Jerry Reinsdorf and former manager Tony La Russa. Former teammates like Schmidt, Rod Carew and Ozzie Smith – and contemporaries like Fergie Jenkins and Joe Torre – likely helped Kaat’s case.

“Whether it was the exposure, being a broadcaster, it helped, I don’t know,” Kaat said. “I think what helped me today was having players that I played with and against.”

Hodges, the bumping Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman who guided the Mets to a championship as a manager in 1969, nearly made it onto the writers’ ballot. Candidates need 75 percent of the vote to be elected, and Hodges got 50 percent in 1971, the year before he died of a heart attack at age 47. Until Sunday, Hodges (who peaked at 63.4%) was the only player to get 50 percent on the writers’ ballot without ultimately participating.

Miñoso, who died in 2015, never received much attention from the writers, but was finally recognized for a career that began in the Black Leagues and spanned through 1980, in a symbolic appearance for his main team, the White Sox. Miñoso, an outfielder, reached .299 with an excellent .848 basis plus stroke percentage in nearly 2,000 games.

Oliva is originally from Cuba, like Miñoso, and won the American League hitting title in 1964 and 1965, his first two full seasons. A striking left-handed outfielder, Oliva made eight all-star teams, won three batting titles in total and reached .304 with an .830 OPS

“My family has never had the chance to see me play in the United States,” said Oliva. “In Cuba, I played very little, I only played every Sunday in the country. My mother, my father, my brother, they never saw me play. I wish they had the opportunity to be here today, but they are in Heaven right now, my father and mother, they would be very proud if their little boy from the Cuban countryside was at the Temple of fame today.

Fowler and O’Neil were elected by a committee different from the others, a committee that considered players whose contributions predated the Integration Age.

Fowler, whose career began in the 1870s, was a pioneer in many ways and is considered by many to be the first black player to play organized baseball against white players. O’Neil, one of the founders of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, was a star first baseman who spent decades in professional baseball as a manager and scout.

O’Neil died at the age of 94 in 2006, the year the Hall of Fame admitted 17 members black leagues, but not him. The Hall created a special achievement award in O’Neil’s name, but finally bestowed on him the highest honor of all.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Buck O'Neil, Gil Hodges and four others elected to the Hall of Fame
Buck O'Neil, Gil Hodges and four others elected to the Hall of Fame
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