So, how do you go from posting a 12.60 ERA for a bad team to starring on one of the most sought-after rookie cards of an entire decade, and one with plenty of upward potential even 60+ years after it was issued?
Well, there’s surely more than one way to rip that wax pack, but Jim Kaat put together a foolproof blueprint for any lefthander with plenty of talent, a strong physical makeup, the intestinal fortitude to push on for a quarter century or more, and the luck/serendipity that goes into any successful endeavor.
So, here is Kitty’s basic roadmap, reverse engineered without the benefit of talking through it with the man himself:
1) Excel on the diamond through your prep career to the extent that a Major League team will sign you (or “draft” you, in modern parlance)
2) Get right to work in the minors, doing what is asked of you, and NOT getting eaten alive by the hitters
3) Have the big league team above you sort of stink so they’ll come looking for help everywhere
4) Be ready when they call
5) Don’t pitch too well in your first couple shots at the bigs, but do get enough mound time to find some carboard love
6) Get featured on your first baseball card:
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7) Hold onto your rookie status for a couple of years
8) Have your team switch cities
9) Have your team starting winning in the new city
10) Excel for your team in the new city, maturing into your prime just in time to help said team contend
11) Win 25 games, but do it when another dude wins 27 and sweeps the Cy Young votes
12 ) Have your team expose you on waivers
13) Get claimed by a division rival
14) Win 20 games — twice! — for that new team
15) Get traded to the other league
16) Help your new new team win three straight division titles
17) Get traded to a contender in your original league, at age 40
18) Transition to a relief role
19) Get “sold” back to a team in your second league the next year
20) Watch as your former team wins a division title
21) Watch as your former former team, a current division rival, wins the World Series
22) Continue on as a relief/swingman for the next three seasons
23) Sprinkle in a World Series title in your second-to-last season
24) Retire age 44, tantalizingly close to a big milestone number, but far enough away that Social Security is a more realistic target at your age
25) Stay on the Hall of Fame ballot for the maximum number of years, but never top 30% of the vote
26) Wait for your fans to grow old and cantankerous and long for the old days, and the old ways
27) Wait for knew incarnations of the Veterans Committees that might work to your advantage
This simple 28-step plan took Jim Kaat from the sandlots of Zeeland, Michigan, to the doorstep of hoping the Golden and/or Modern Era Committee might someday soon usher him into the Hall of Fame.
And that 1960 Topps rookie card of his that is already a $100 buy (or so) in PSA 8 condition, awaits its call to the big leagues, where it can rub shoulders with the likes of Rival All-Stars (Mickey Mantle/Ken Boyer), Early Wynn, and Whitey Ford in that classic horizontal issue.
Can Kaat’s journey bring you to the same destination?
Sure it can! As long as you have the left arm … and the longevity … and the franchise relocation … and the old baseball card … and ……………..