Jim Kaat finally has number retired; Whitaker next and trend must continue

Former Minnesota Twins pitcher Jim Kaat speaks during a ceremony to retire his number before their game against he Chicago White Sox, Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Minneapolis. Kaat will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame later this month. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)
Former Minnesota Twins pitcher Jim Kaat speaks during a ceremony to retire his number before their game against he Chicago White Sox, Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Minneapolis. Kaat will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame later this month. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)

With just days to go before his Baseball Hall of Fame induction, Jim Kaat earned an honor even fewer players are bestowed with.

Kaat had his number 36 retired by the Minnesota Twins on Saturday, officially becoming part of Twins royalty.

The Zeeland native is part of a wave of number retirements this year as teams finally celebrate their heroes.

Fellow Class of 2022 Hall of Famer Gil Hodges had his No. 14 umber retired by the Dodgers this month, while the Mets retired No. 17 for Keith Hernandez.

Detroit Tigers hero Lou Whitaker is next, with his No. 1 set to be retired Aug. 6 at Comerica Park.

It is refreshing to see teams make these moves - finally.

There is no reason Kaat couldn't have had his number retired years ago - or Hodges with the Dodgers for that matter.

In fact, it might have helped gain them some more recognition that could have helped them get into the Hall of Fame sooner. They each waited more than 30 years on ballots and committes before being elected.

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Perhaps the Tigers and Mets have picked up on this.

Whitaker has been a Hall of Fame finalist and will likely be one again in December. More recognition couldn't hurt.

Hernandez should be a finalist alongside Whitaker, and perhaps this will help him, too, as it did for Cubs legend Ron Santo, who was elected to the Hall of Fame the year after his number was retired at Wrigley Field.

They aren't alone.

There are Hall of Famers who should have their numbers retired (Andre Dawson and Lee Smith of the Cubs) and other legends who could see a boost to their own Hall of Fame cases with some recognition (Luis Tiant of the Red Sox and Don Newcombe by the Dodgers come to mind).

Then there are those special players that meant a ton to their teams and communities who might not be headed to the Hall of Fame but deserve to be honored by their teams (J.R. Richard of the Astros Willie McGee of the Cardinals or perhaps Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers).

Fans watch as Minnesota Twins former pitcher Jim Kaat's retired number, 36, is unveiled during a ceremony before their game against he Chicago White Sox, Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Minneapolis. Kaat will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame later this month. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)
Fans watch as Minnesota Twins former pitcher Jim Kaat's retired number, 36, is unveiled during a ceremony before their game against he Chicago White Sox, Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Minneapolis. Kaat will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame later this month. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)

After Whitaker, perhaps the Tigers would consider retiring the numbers of Bill Freehan and Mickey Lolich, key stars on the 1968 championship team and past finalists for the Hall of Fame.

Of course the Tigers will have to retire the numbers of Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander in the future as well.

But the Tigers have been a franchise full of heroes that Detroit has embraced.

Just like Minnesota has with its retired numbers crew of Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Kirby Puckett, Bert Blyleven, Kent Hrbek, Joe Mauer and manager Tom Kelly.

Kaat spent most of his Hall of Fame career with the Twins and will enter the Hall of Fame on Sunday with longtime Twins teammate Oliva.

Kaat won 283 games in a 25-year career that included 16 Gold Glove Awards.

"For more than sixty years, Jim Kaat has been an important part of the fabric of the Minnesota Twins organization," Twins owner Jim Pohlad said in a statement. "With Kitty's storied career on the field as well as his accolades in the broadcast booth and his contributions in the community in mind, the Twins family is proud to bestow our highest honor with the retirement of his jersey, number 36."

Lets hope the tradition of retiring players continues and is not held up by whether the player is in Cooperstown or not.

Heroes need to be remembered by their teams, and Kaat's No. 36 will forever face Twins players and fans at every game - right where it should be.

— Contact Sports Editor Dan D'Addona at Dan.D'Addona@hollandsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanDAddona and Facebook @Holland Sentinel Sports.

This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Jim Kaat finally has number retired; Whitaker next and trend must continue