Whoopie! It’s that time again

Finally. The Super Bowl is history, golf season is under way and… pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training.

Always an exciting time for baseball fans and teams. New faces will appear this spring as hopefuls to turn a franchise into a contender or a contender into a champion. A Bryce Harper, Yu Darvish and Mike Trout — and many we have yet to hear about.

I enjoy reading the various newspapers from big league cities to get the advance reports on what fans can hope to expect. For example, Boston is faced with trying to make the media and their fans forget the somewhat embarrassing collapse and clubhouse behavior of last September. Speaking from personal experience, the behavior issue was way overstated as a reason and the on-field performance was one pitch or one hit from being overlooked. These days that one pitch or hit can lead to a World Series, as it did for the Cardinals.

Detroit’s expectations will be to get to the World Series and maybe win it. They will be the choice to win the AL Central handily, but they still have to catch the ball and get the last six outs of the game. Those are two areas we have found out are most important in baseball. For example, the fly ball over Nelson Cruz’s head and the failure to put the Cardinals away when they had a chance was responsible for Texas not winning the World Series.

I’m not going to evaluate every team here, but every camp you visit in February and March will be full of optimism. As my former manager, Whitey Herzog, would say, “We’re just two players from winning a World Series: Ruth and Koufax.” That’s true for a lot of teams.

I’m looking forward to going to Spring Training camp in Fort Myers and helping my friend and neighbor Bob McClure. Mac is the new pitching coach for the Red Sox. He’s a lefty with 19 years of experience in the majors. We think a lot alike. K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and with my 25 years experience will share some ideas that worked or didn’t work for us.

I was flattered when I was contacted by Ben Cherington, the new Red Sox GM, to see if I had interest in passing on some of my ideas to their pitchers. I have always been a little puzzled that in over 25 years as an announcer, I had only two pitchers solicit advice from me. Billy Connors, Yankee pitching coach in 1995, had me spend a little time with Andy Pettitte. Not any instruction — just giving him a little preview of what it would be like to pitch in the majors. Roy Smith, a righthander that had a brief stint with the Twins when I was announcing their games in the late 80s always wanted to talk pitching with me.

I remember one of my first pitching coaches, Eddie Lopat, former Yankee lefty, telling me, “Kid, if you don’t suffer any serious arm injury, you’re going to pitch in the big leagues for a long time.” I asked why. He said, “Because you’re curious about how to improve.”

That is one thing I know helped me so much during my career. I asked Warren Spahn to look at my motion one evening in Minnesota when we were playing the Braves in an exhibition game. I’ll never forget his parting words, “Kid, when the game is tied in the 7th inning, the game is just starting for a starting pitcher.” My how times have changed!

And I asked Whitey Ford as we both warmed up in the bullpens in Minnesota one night in the early ’60s, “Whitey, do you mind showing me how you grip your fastball to get that kind of movement?” He could have told me to not bother him. (We were about to face each other in the game!) He showed me, and I gripped my fastball like that for the rest of my career.

Or the night I was about to face the Milwaukee Brewers in the early ’70s, and my former teammate Kenny Sanders was watching me warm up. He laughed and said, “You’re not going out there to pitch with that stuff are you ?” I stopped throwing and shouted at him, “Hey Half-Ear” — good old fashioned clubhouse humor: that was Kenny’s affectionate nickname because he lost part of his ear lobe in a collision at home plate — “How do you grip your slider?” He had a good one in his day. He showed me how he moved his thumb up along the side of the ball and not underneath like most pitchers did. I tried it. it felt good. I pitched eight effective innings that night using his slider grip and we won. I called him right after the game and thanked him…all part of being in the “Pitchers Union.”

They seem to find a way every few years to legislate against us: smaller strike zone, lighter bats to allow more bat speed, smaller parks and the DH. So we have to try to stick together and beat the system. I don’t think I have definite answers, nor do I think any coach does, but the object is to present a pitcher with a number of ideas that might help him become a better pitcher.

I enjoyed doing that as Pete Rose’s pitching coach in the mid-’80s, passing along things I learned from Johnny Sain and Spahnie and Lopat, hoping they would help pitchers. Tom Browning won 20 games that year as a rookie pitcher, the first pitcher to do it since Bob Grim of the Yankees did it in the mid-’50s. Very satisfying for us retired pitchers to be able to do that.

I look forward to having Mac as my boss and seeing if any of these old school ideas are still relevant in today’s game. I think they are, beacuse they’re really not old school. They are sound fundamental principles that have existed since Abner Doubleday or whoever you think created the game.

There is nothing so sweet as the smell of a ballpark in the spring and the sound of the ball hitting the bat or the “thwack” of the ball hitting the glove as pitchers begin to play catch and go thru the boring but necessary fielding drills. That is the first rite of spring: pitchers’ fielding practice. Can’t wait to see it.

Hope your team has an exciting season that holds your interest right through September…


  1. jjswol

    Jim, The hated Boston Red Sox? Come on now, why aren’t you helping the Minnesota Twins, our pitchers could use your advice for sure. Francisco Liriano really needs a whole lot of help from a lefty like yourself. Take care of yourself Jim!

    • jimkaat

      The Twins invited me to come in as a volunteer coach for a few days as they did last year…….the RedSox were the first organization in over 25 years…since Pete Rose asked me to be his pitching coach…. that actually got serious about having me share my ideas on pitching. Ben Cherington and Allard Baird and Bob McClure took the time to come to my home in Florida and interview me about my ideas and ask what I might be able ‘d like to do to help..I was flattered by that..I enjoy giving back to the game in the field of pitching which is my only real area of expertise based on my own experiences…..I feel honored to try to justify their interest….

  2. stripes914


    The Red Sox? As a Yankees fan, I’m saddened because I know your insight and advice is going to help and improve their staff. If I was a pitcher today, I’d ask you to lunch every week to pick your brain. These pitchers are foolish not to talk pitching with you. I’m happy that you’re back in the game, even if it is Boston.

    I enjoy your stories and wisdom! I agree with your logic on pitching “Throw the clicker away” etc. We miss you on the Yankees broadcasts.

    Just curious, because I respect your opinion – Who do you think invented the game? I was always told Doubleday, but there seems to be some conspiracy theories. Since I don’t know for sure, I’ll subscribe to whoever YOU think invented the game. If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for me!

    Thanks for your time,

  3. Jim Davey

    Kitty: I’m another Yankee fan who wishes it wasn’t the BoSox receiving your wisdom this spring, but to their credit, it is. If it wasn’t for the Red Sox, our Yankees wouldn’t be as acclaimed as they have been through the years. To be great you need great opponents. What’s the greatest rivalry you have been a part of?

  4. pinstripebirthdays

    Mr. Kaat, Great post as usual. If you had to put together the best possible lineup that included only former teammates of your’s, who would be at each position and which of your former managers would you consider to be the most skilled at their craft.

  5. Emma

    I posted here yesterday but guess my post is subject to approval. I think is because I included my MLB Blog at the bottom. I had the same thing happen to me before. I told Mark, our fearless leader here. He is the one that tells us to include our MLB Blog link.
    Anyway, what I said was that I love the Whitey Herzog quote. Speaking of Koufax, I miss going to Vero Beach because it was so much fan friendly and the posibility of running into Sandy Koufax there. Still, I’ve been going to Camelback Ranch, where the Dodgers priactice since they moved here.
    Congratulations on your new role with the Red Sox. I love your reports! Keep up the great job!

  6. Mike Cieslinski

    Hi Jim, Great to see you are helping Mac out. I used to play pick up basketball with Bob at the YMCA in Brookfield, WI and he was a partner with my baseball simulation game Pursue the Pennant which has been heralded for it’s realism. I live in West Palm Beach, FL and am hoping to get over to Ft. Myers to see Bob and would welcome meeting you.

    The successor to Pursue the Pennant is my new DYNASTY League Baseball simulation which has a new online version that has league and tournament play formats. The Greatest Team bracket tournament format includes the 1982 Cardinals and 1970 Twins that you were a part of. I’d enjoy having the opportunity to show it to you. My MLB.com blog is:


  7. Joe from CT

    Hi Kitty,
    An old American League fan here, one who remembers you from your days with the Twins, White Sox, Yankees, etc. I’m a Red Sox guy who lives in Connecticut, so through the years I have always had access to Yankee telecasts as well…used to love to tune in to root against the Bombers while listening to (and learning from) Kitty Kaat. Really miss your input on those broadcasts…they are definitely not the same without you. But it’s great to hear that you’re still active around MLB…and helping out my Sox! Take care, my friend.

  8. Steve Bergeson


    As always, I love your insights and passion for baseball. Best of luck in your efforts to pass on words of pitching wisdom to another generation of players. I look forward to your next post. All the best.

  9. Richard Ribble

    Hey Jim,
    I can’t believe that there is only 42 of us! It is a privilege to talk to you! Gene Woodling was my favorite player as a kid- what do you remember about him? Signed, a former righthander.

  10. Jim

    Hi Jim, could I get your email. I would like to ask you some things about pitching and comment about our great late boss.

  11. Joe Berman

    Mr. Kaat, I just discovered your blog and I’m enjoying your posts.
    Question: What do you make of today’s news about Joakim Soria? I don’t recall a pitcher “feeling sore” in spring training and just like that needing season-ending surgery, although I suspect it has happened before.
    Also, do you have any interest in fantasy baseball? We have an opening in our very friendly and congenial league, draft date is next Saturday, 10:30 AM, downtown Minneapolis

    Best from JOE B

  12. Tom Coyne

    I’m so glad I happened to stumble upon this blogger page. I’m 59 and still an avid baseball fan, after a career as a sportscaster and broadcasting instructor. You were my favorite player growing up in Minnesota, and still feel you belong in the Hall of Fame. What always impressed me was your attention to detail, something that seems to be missing with a lot of athletes these days. My son once asked me why you were my favorite player. Why not Harmon Killebrew, for example? While I loved the Killer too, I told Pat that Jim Kaat wasn’t just a great pitcher. A great fielder, as 17 Gold Gloves would attest. A great hitter, back in the day when DHs weren’t around. Always kept himself in tremendous condition. And later, not surprisingly, I would come to admire your work as a commentator as well. Your reference to Warren Spahn in this article, brought back fond memories of a quote you had on my 1965 Twins’ highlight record. I remember when you pitched the clinching win against the Senators that year, you said you had recalled the Spahn advice in the midst of that crucial game. It helped you to avoid throwing any “lollypop pitches” to the Washington hitters.

    Thanks for all the great memories and I, too, look forward to following your posts regularly now!

  13. Fred Reade

    Jim, you are a real treasure to the game of baseball. I really enjoyed your broadcasting and am old enough to remember your playing days. Greatest fielding pitcher in history. My personal love of the game is something I share with you and I always appreciated the way you characterized when it was time for you to retire: “When they drag me off the field.” Your approach to pitching was and continues to be (as a mentor) the product of an astute mind always willing to learn and grow.
    Location and movement! Command the fastball to all four quadrants. Yes!

  14. Joe Hofmann

    Jim, I miss you doing Yankee games! This is the second time I have read you getting pregame advice from Whitey Ford. I wish I could have been there listening so I can pass on that grip to my lefty son! Would you mind explaining that grip? He needs more movement!
    Keep up the great work!
    Joe H.

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