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Jim Kaat recalls ‘Bronx Zoo’ debut with Yankees


COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Jim Kaat pitched in nearly 900 games over 25 seasons in the big leagues, the majority of them as a starter.

Kaat, a 283-game winner who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, also made 43 relief appearances and one start for the Yankees in parts of two seasons, in 1979 and 1980. The longtime Yankees announcer recalled his pinstriped debut on Saturday.

“The Phillies weren’t using me very much, and out of desperation they had to bring me in during an extra-inning game in San Diego, and I had to pitch three or four innings and we won that game,” Kaat said. “Birdie Tebbetts was in the stands scouting for the Yankees, so the next day the general manager calls me and tells me I’m going to the Yankees.

“So I caught the red-eye that night, and got in early in the morning and had to go right to the ballpark. [Manager] Bob Lemon is sitting with his feet up on the desk, smoking a heater and said, ‘Welcome to the Bronx Zoo. Are you ready to pitch?’ I came into the game that day with the bases loaded, and of all things, I got my good friend and [former Twins] teammate Rod Carew to hit into a double play.”

Hall of Fame
Jim Kaat and his wife Maggie.
AP

The 83-year-old Kaat, who was elected by the Golden Era committee, also played for Billy Martin, both with the Yankees and earlier in his career with the Twins.

“Billy was such a great game manager, if you could have just locked him in his room at night and just put him in the dugout,” Kaat said. “I loved him as a game manager and loved him from a pitching standpoint, because he let you pitch until you drop.”


Derek Jeter originally was on a list of Hall of Famers expected to be in attendance Sunday, but a Hall spokesman said the former Yankees captain and 2020 honoree was a last-minute scratch. Fifty-two of the 75 living Hall of Famers are expected to be at the ceremony, including Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax.


ESPN baseball insider Tim Kurkjian — formerly of The Dallas Morning News, The Baltimore Sun and Sports Illustrated — was honored Saturday with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s Career Excellence Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.

“The day after I won the award, Johnny Bench called me at my house. Johnny Bench. And he said, ‘Congratulations, Tim, welcome to the club. You’re one of us now,’ ” Kurkjian said. “Let’s be clear, I’m not one of them. I’m not in their club. But the greatest catcher of all time called me to congratulate me. It doesn’t get any better than that.”



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