Baseball hall of famers give former Twins stars warm welcome

Published 4:11 pm Tuesday, December 7, 2021

By Betsy Helfand, Pioneer Press

The club is elite, and entry is elusive. More than 20,000 players have put on a major-league baseball jersey and just 267 currently have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The club will usher in Twins legends Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat, among others, next July. But while their official induction will have to wait months, they’ve already been welcomed with open arms by their peers.

“That’s one of the real rewarding things to me, to hear the hall of famers say, ‘You deserved this,’ “ Kaat said. “It’s been a long time coming. … That’s the best thing you need to hear from your peers (is) that they appreciated the way you played the game.”

Within the first day of being elected, Kaat, 83, said he had heard from Dennis Eckersley, Jack Morris and Johnny Bench, among others. Oliva, 83, picked up his phone at one point and saw he had 192 messages to respond to. Among the messages he received, Jim Palmer had reached out, as had Paul Molitor.

The messages kept coming and coming — and Oliva couldn’t keep up.

“I sent you a text and I haven’t heard back yet,” Kaat quipped to Oliva, his former teammate.

While the Twins celebrated the duo with a press conference on Monday, Morris, Molitor, Rod Carew and Bert Blyleven all took turns welcoming two of the newest members to their exclusive club.

Blyleven, who appeared at the press conference over Zoom (as did Kaat and Carew), had just returned home from Orlando, Fla., where he had the opportunity to vote as part of the 16-person Golden Days Era Committee. Addressing the duo, the former Twins pitcher said he was “so happy” that they wound up where they belonged: in the Hall of Fame.

Carew, a former teammate to both and Oliva’s longtime roommate, Zoomed in from his home in California. Carew originally was scheduled to vote on the committee, but Blyleven instead voted in his place.

“I was in tears yesterday when I got the news because these two gentlemen are two great people, not only on the baseball field but also in the community,” Carew said, before welcoming them to “one of the greatest fraternities in the world.”

Carew and Blyleven are two of the four players currently in the Hall of Fame as Twins. Kirby Puckett and Harmon Killebrew are the other two, and Oliva and Kaat will bring that number to six.

Minnesotans Morris and Molitor, who played for the Twins but went in with a different cap — Morris went into the Hall of Fame as a Tiger, Molitor as a Brewer — also were on hand during Monday’s press conference to welcome Oliva and Kaat.

“I almost jumped through the ceiling. Didn’t shed tears but just smiled, and the grin hasn’t stopped,” Morris said, noting that as a kid growing up in Minnesota, his dream to play for the Twins had a lot to do with Kaat and Oliva. “It’s so overdue for both of you guys. Welcome to our club. It’s a great fraternity.”

Kaat and Oliva, Molitor said, were two guys he followed closely as a boy growing up in St. Paul. In 1982, he wound up on the other side of the diamond from Kaat, 18 years his senior, during the World Series. Years later, he was on the voting committee when Oliva and Kaat were on the ballot.

His vote that time wasn’t enough. But, “Cooperstown has a way of eventually getting things right,” Molitor said.

“You guys have had to wait too long,” Molitor told them. “I was very elated (Sunday).”