20,000 days ago, a kid went pro. On June 17, 1957, the Washington Senators franchise signed 18-year-old recent high school graduate Jim Kaat.
It turned out to be quite a nice signing, as Kaat would play in 25 major league seasons—then a record for a big league pitcher. He also won 283 games, one of the highest totals in big league history. 190 of those wins came with the franchise that first signed him, the Senators – who became the Twins in 1961.
Of all eligibles, only two men from 1876-onward won more games than Kaat’s 283 and aren’t in Cooperstown: Tommy John, and 19th century pitcher Tony Mullane. (Bobby Mathews also has more win than Kaat if you include the 1871-75 National Association, but it was more a proto-big league than an actual one).
While Kaat was a great pitcher, there will always be a winningest pitcher not in Cooperstown, and Kaat frankly is the sort of guy who should hold that distinction.
Let’s think for a second. What characteristics should the all-time winningest non-Hall of Famer have? Well, for starters he should have a lot of losses. A lousy win-loss record only makes sense.
That’s Kaat. Alongside his 283 wins are 237 losses. His .544 winning percentage is one of the 10 worst ever by someone with 250 wins.
Second, the winningest pitcher not in Cooperstown should have had nice help from his teammates.
That’s also Kaat. You might not think of the Twins as a great club, but they had an awesome offense in the 1960s. I believe they actually scored more runs that decade than any other. When Kaat was there, Minnesota’s offense featured Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Don Mincher, Earl Battey, Zoilo Versalles, Bob Allison, Cesar Tovar, Jimmie Hall… That’s a lot of offensive firepower. They weren’t all peaking at the same time, but they all hit for Kaat.
Overall, Kaat’s run support was (park adjusted) about five percent above average. Five percent doesn’t sound like too much, but over 25 years it adds up. Despite that, Kaat still had only a .544 winning percentage.
Finally, the biggest winning Hall of Famer should lack a great, sustained prime. That’s only fair. If he’s got the career numbers, he shouldn’t have the peak numbers.
Well, Kaat does have three 20-win seasons, but strange though it might sound it’s “only” three 20-win seasons. You see, two game in the AL in 1973-74. In those two seasons, the AL had 21 different 20-win seasons. Yeah, that’s high. With the creation of the DH, managers left their starters in longer so they picked up more decisions. 20-game-winners reached a peak at that time. Kaat had 21 and 20 wins in those years. Meanwhile, there were nine different 22-win seasons in the 1973-74 AL.
Aside from that, Kaat had only one 20-win season, and that was way back in 1965. That’s not a sustained prime. Admittedly, it was a 25-win season, but there was no great prime.
Kaat isn’t the all-time winningest pitcher not in Cooperstown. He never will be, barring some unforeseen Tony Mullane bandwagon. And it wouldn’t be a travesty for Kaat to make it in, should the VC take a shine to him. But there’s a reason why he hasn’t gone in yet.
Aside from that, many other events celebrate an anniversary of “day-versary” today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold.
2,000 days since Brad Radke’s last game
2,000 days since Vinny Castilla’s last game.
4,000 days since Woody Williams achieves the worst Game Score for a starting pitcher who picked up the win since 1960. He gets the W despite a Game Score of 12 with a line of: 5 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, as the Padres top the Rockies, 14-10. Without looking, I’ll guess the game took place in Denver.
5,000 days since San Diego’s Ken Caminiti hits three home runs in one game.
8,000 days since a 41-year-old Bill Buckner hits an inside-the-park homer. That’s as unlikely an inside shot as you’ll ever hear about. It’s his last career home run.
1821 Bill Cammeyer, the inventor of the baseball stadium and one of the oldest people listed at Baseball-Reference.com, is born. Prior to Cammeyer, teams would pass the hat around after a game for money. Cammeyer started charging people entry before a game instead.
1865 Mike Griffin, outfielder, is born.
1871 Iron Man Joe McGinnity, Hall of Fame pitcher who didn’t debut in the majors until he was 28 years old, is born.
1888 Al Spalding announces that Chicago will go on a baseball tour of Australia accompanied by a team of NL All-Stars.
1889 A New York sporting goods company receives an order for bats, balls, and other pieces of baseball equipment from a Mr. Hiroka of Tokyo.
1901 The AL decrees that all umpires must be within 10 feet of home plate.
1901 Teams announce their rosters, and 111 of the 185 AL players have jumped from the previous year’s NL squads.
1907 Vern Kennedy, pitcher, is born.
1915 The groundbreaking for Braves Field in Boston occurs.
1934 Female athlete Babe Didrickson pitches one inning for the A’s in an exhibition game against Brooklyn and walks one batter.
1937 The Negro League’s Homestead Grays acquire future Hall of Famers Josh Gibson and Judy Johnson for $2,500 and a pair of journeymen.
1938 Fats Fothergill, one of the most out of shape players in history, dies.
1953 Sen. Edwin Johnson offers a bill before Congress that would give clubs the sole right to ban radio and TV broadcasts in their territory. It’s an attempt to save the independent minors.
1954 The Cubs trade Roy Smalley to Milwaukee.
1976 Leo Durocher, who was supposed to take over this year as manager for the Taiyo Whales in Japan, is today told to forget it. He’s been in the hospital with hepatitis and the ensuing five week delay nixed his last chance to manage.
1984 Hall of Fame starting pitcher Stan Coveleski dies at age 94.
1989 Baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth announces he’s conducting a full investigation into serious allegations that Pete Rose bet on baseball.
1992 After a 32-day owner lockout, spring training belatedly begins.
1993 The Mets sign amateur free agent Octavio Dotel.
1995 Baltimore cancels its remaining spring training games as it refuses to use replacement players.
2002 The commissioner’s office says teams will continue to play God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch of each team’s first home stand and they’ll keep the flag patches on their uniforms, too.
2003 Milwaukee trades Henry Blanco to the Braves for Paul Bako and Jose Cabrera. So it turns out that not only is there a difference between veteran catchers Blanco and Bako, but that the difference is worth an entire player.
2006 86-year-old Boston special instructor Johnny Pesky breaks a bone in his left ankle while watching a college baseball game.
2006 Veteran pitcher Al Leiter, the first man to beat all 30 franchises, announces his retirement.
2009 Houston signs veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
2011 White Sox starting pitcher Jake Peavy is scratched with rotator cuff tendonitis.