Jim Kaat had a sportier life than a feline. Hence the nickname Kitty.

He’s played a quarter of a century in the big leagues for six different teams, winning 283 games and, surprisingly, 16 Golden Gloves for his defensive prowess. His arm was as tough as the slab he used to make every throw – the only two times he suffered serious injuries was while running bases, not throwing curved balls. He had a rubber arm.

He’s been a winter resident of Stuart for 37 years and has spent even more time in baseball when you add almost 30 years as a TV commentator.

Kaat also made history in our region almost a decade ago when, at age 75, he probably became the first player on this planet to shoot his age as a left-handed and right-handed while he was member of the McArthur Club in Hobe Sound.

You’ve heard of a golfer who can work the ball back and forth …

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Golf columnist Craig Dolch

Kaat hasn’t finished making the headlines. Earlier this month, the 83-year-old was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Golden Days Era committee. While receiving this wonderful phone call was not shocking, it was certainly significant.

The Veterans Committee only meets once every five years these days, and COVD-19 has extended the last interval to seven years. Do the math and you’ll see why Kaat was dizzy at the thought of entering Cooperstown next July.

These ceremonies are usually not as enjoyable when entering the Hall of Fame posthumously.

“There was no doubt that I was running out of time,” said Kaat, who will be inducted alongside former teammate Tony Oliva recently. “In a perfect world, Tony and I would have gone with (another ex-teammate) Dick Allen (deceased a year ago). It was worth the wait.

New York Yankees pitcher Jim Kaat accepts congratulations after pitching four and two-thirds of no-hit relief against the Seattle Mariners at Yankee Stadium in New York on Sunday, July 23, 1979 to win the game 4-0 .  Kaat replaced starter Don Hood, who left with leg cramps in the fifth inning.  Kaat won his 264th game in life, 23rd on the all-time list.

Kaat had come close the two times he was on the veterans ballot – close but no bust. Even though he said he put the induction chances “in his rearview mirror,” he was hopeful this time around because of the make-up of the 16-person committee.

“In the past there were guys on the committee who had never seen me play,” Kaat said. “This time there were a lot of guys in the committee who had played with me or against me. I thought I had a chance.

“But like I told Dick’s widow Willa when she called to congratulate me, if anyone votes for Dick who voted for me, he would have come in and I would still be waiting. It’s a very fine line between going in and having to wait.

In my mind, Kaat aging while playing left-handed and right-handed golf is one of the most amazing, if not original, achievements in the sport. He sometimes played back and forth in the same round, much to the chagrin of his younger brother.

Kaat has always minimized the feat.

“I was the only one crazy enough to try it,” he said.

Jim Kaat starts off in a game with friends at Medalist Golf Club on Thursday morning, January 11, 2003, in Hobe Sound.

Kaat was a natural southpaw, but after starting to get the short-playing yips, a PGA pro suggested he play right-handed around the greens. He hits with more power from the left side, but he’s more consistent as a right-hander.

Over time, and it does, he relishes the feat more often. He rarely shoots his age these days, regardless of which side of the ball he is standing on.

“It’s more difficult,” Kaat said. “Your body just isn’t doing what you want it to do at 83.”

We should all have the chance to continue playing golf at age 83.

Slowly Kaat has become like all of us when it comes to chasing after the little white ball.

“I’m just doing it now for the camaraderie with the guys and to get some good shots,” he said. “I just love the challenge of the game. I try to hit balls every day. It’s great therapy just to be outside.

Kaat does not know how many more winters he will spend on the Treasure Coast. The things that brought it here – less traffic, low population density – have changed in recent years, no doubt affected by COVID migration.

One boon that doesn’t bother him is the growing number of premium golf courses being built here. In addition to McArthur, he was also a member of Medalist and played his most recent golf at Hobe Sound Golf Club.

“Tom Fazio II did a great job with the redesign,” Kaat said. “It will only get better. “

Kaat has few complaints, especially recently.

“I have had a lot of good things that happen to me late in life,” he said.

This cat is not finished.

Craig Dolch is a TCPalm.com correspondent with over 30 years of golf writing experience.

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