COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Jim Kaat’s pitching days for the Yankees were relatively brief. They included only parts of two seasons during a 25-year career that will be recognized on Sunday in the best possible way — an induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
But Kaat, who won 283 games, including 189 with Minnesota, threw for two managers his first season in pinstripes, and they left lasting memories. They were Bob Lemon and Billy Martin.
The Yankees purchased Kaat’s contract from Philadelphia on May 11, 1979, and Kaat had his contract purchased by St. Louis on April 30, 1980.
Lemon had some unforgettable words for the lefty when he first reported.
“Bob Lemon is sitting back in his chair with his feet on his desk, smoking a heater,” the 83-year-old Kaat said Saturday, flashing back during a news conference at Clark Sports Center. “He said, ‘Well, welcome to the Bronx Zoo.’ ”
Kaat finished 2-3 with two saves and a 3.86 ERA over 40 games, 39 of them in relief. The Yankees finished fourth in the AL East at 89-71. Martin replaced Lemon after a 34-31 start for his second of five stints as Yankees manager.
“Billy, he was such a great game manager,” said Kaat, who also had him in that role with the Twins in 1969. “If you could’ve just locked him in his room at night and just put him in the dugout …
“I loved him from a pitching standpoint because he’d let you pitch [until] you drop, unless you were giving up the lead run.
“ . . . I can just say playing for Billy was a unique experience.”
Kurkjian, Graney honored
ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian and the late broadcaster Jack Graney each received an honor from the Hall on Saturday. Kurkjian was given the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s Career Excellence Award for his writing efforts at various outlets over the years. Graney was recognized with the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting. The line of former major leaguers heading to the booth began with him. Graney played in 14 seasons with Cleveland, then announced its games on radio for more than 20 years, beginning with the 1932 season.
Derek Jeter was originally on the list of Hall of Famers expected to be at Sunday’s ceremony, but the Hall revealed he won’t be attending after all.