From NY Daily News:
When the cameras are shut down and there is nothing left but silence Friday night, Jim Kaat will walk out of the Yankees' TV booth in the Bronx for the final time.
Kaat, who has spent 13 seasons as a Yankees analyst (WPIX, MSG, YES), will retire. He walks away on his own terms - something he was not able to do when his 25-year pitching career ended with a telephone call. It happened during the All-Star break in 1983 when he was with St. Louis.
Whitey Herzog had the dual role of manager/GM of the Cardinals. Joe McDonald, Herzog's contract man, made the call to Kaat. He told Kaat the Cards were releasing him and picking up Dave Rucker, a Tigers lefthander.
Kaat told a United Press International reporter: "I knew one of these days that bullet would hit me. But I can't really show any signs of disappointment because of the good things that have happened in the last 25 years."
The years that followed have left Kaat feeling blessed.
Playing baseball fulfilled a childhood dream. Embarking on a second career, in which he was recognized as one of the best at his craft, was the kind of icing few of us ever get to taste.
"I can't think of anybody in baseball over the last 50 years who had it better than I have," Kaat told me a couple of days ago.
Kaat has been welcomed into millions of homes on summer nights. When he walks through Central Park with his wife, Mary Ann, fans want to talk baseball. The voice is still there. So is the insight. He turns 68 in November, but does not look his age.
The man has some good seasons left at the microphone. So, why is he taking his final bow after Friday's Red Sox-Yankees tilt?
"I'm just ready. It's my 50th year in professional baseball and yeah, I'm going to turn 68. I feel like I've had a nice run," Kaat said. "My playing career ended with that 30-second phone call, which at the time was a kick in the gut. But hey, I played for 25 years. No reason to whine, let's just move on.
"I look at my broadcasting career the same way. I don't want to get nostalgic and look back," Kaat said. "I'll look at what's ahead. When the past comes up I'll reflect on it. I'll remember how much I enjoyed it and how fortunate I was. When I mention retirement my sisters say: 'What are you going to retire from? You never worked a day in your life.' In a way they are right."
And yet, as Kaat described what amounted to verbal snapshots of what got him to this point, each picture showed him building a broadcasting foundation.
During parts of four seasons with the Phillies, he would sit on the bench with Tim McCarver talking about the game. Sometimes it would sound as if they were doing a telecast. The picture is surreal. At the time, neither of them had any idea they were both destined to scale some incredible broadcasting heights.
"When you are playing, you think you are going to play forever," Kaat said.
As a player, Kaat was a good interview. He left an impression. The late Don Carney, who directed Yankee telecasts on WPIX-TV, was so impressed with Kaat after a rain-delay interview (remember those?) he reached out and hired him to work with Bill White and Phil Rizzuto in 1986. Carney did this knowing Kaat was not on the best of terms with George Steinbrenner.
After Sports Illustrated put The Boss on its cover posing as Napoleon, Kaat wrote a scathing letter to SI accusing the magazine of poor taste. With so many great players in the game, Kaat wondered why SI would choose Steinbrenner. SI printed Kaat's letter. When Kaat pitched for the Bombers (1979-80) he also got into a contract dispute with Steinbrenner.
Still, depsite the flaps over the years, The Boss twice gave his blessing to bringing Kaat into the Yankee booth. Steinbrenner again gave a thumbs-up when MSG brought Kaat back to the Yankees broadcast booth in 1995 after Tony Kubek retired. Kaat, now with YES, has been with the Yankees ever since.
"There have been no problems with George," Kaat said. "Over the years I have come to appreciate his style."
Kaat may have developed that appreciation by listening to the advice of White. "Bill gave me a good foundation. He taught me how to do Yankee telecasts without being a former Yankee," Kaat said.
After that '86 season, Billy Martin was between gigs. Steinbrenner brought him in to replace Kaat. Martin's mission, fully endorsed by The Boss, was to stir the eternal Yankee pot and constantly second-guess manager Lou Piniella. White told Kaat not to take the move personally.
"Bill told me usually to start here you last a year and then they go in a different direction," Kaat said laughing.
The move actually worked out pretty well for Kaat. In 1988, he wound up in the Twins' booth. He stayed there for six seasons. He also broke onto the national scene doing games for NBC and CBS. At NBC Sports, Mike Weisman put Kaat on a backup game working with Dick Enberg. That's when Kaat learned how to let the pictures do the talking.
At CBS, Kaat was frustrated. Figuring out what to talk about during a three-hour broadcast had become intimidating. He would bring notes into the booth, but found himself providing too much detail. He confided in his partner, Dick Stockton, that he wanted to work without notes.
"That's the way (John) Madden operates," Stockton told Kaat.
Stockton hooked Kaat up with Madden for a telephone seminar. Madden said if he brought notes into the booth he felt compelled to use them and would "force" something into a telecast. "Then John told me if he did his homework it would be stored in his memory bank," Kaat said. "And if it is important it will come out. If it doesn't, it probably wasn't that important."
That was just another lesson.
The more Kaat talked, the more it became apparent many of these career snapshots were about people who helped him along the way. Like Jody Shapiro, an executive at Home Team Sports who hired Kaat in 1981 during the players' strike to work minor-league telecasts with Ralph Kiner and Warner Fusselle.
Or Mike McCarthy, the executive who worked closely with Kaat at MSG. Then there's John Filippelli, YES' executive producer, who hired Kaat as the network's No. 1 analyst, and Howard Katz, who brought in Kaat to be one of ESPN's first baseball studio analysts.
And Kaat's wife, Mary Ann. "She always says: 'You just get to the game on time and find your way to the first tee. I'll handle all the other stuff.' She's done a great job with all of that," Kaat said.
On Friday, Kaat will get to the Stadium on time. To hear him speak, it will be just another game. "I don't think anything is going to hit me. I think it will be the same as it is when you are a player," Kaat said. "If it tugs at me next spring that's when I'll have to deal with it."
Make no mistake, when Kaat leaves the booth Friday night, it will end a wonderful run for a plain-spoken, entertaining broadcaster - an old-school baseball storyteller who will not be easily replaced. A man who learned his lessons well. Perhaps the greatest lesson explains Kaat's success. The words were delivered to him years ago by Del Wilber, a minor league manager.
"He told me the game got along fine before you got here and it will get along just fine when you are gone," Kaat said. "No one is bigger than the game."
Column 9/10/06, NY Daily News