Twins Great Killebrew Dies
Sad news out of the Minnesota Twins today, a true legend has passed.
Harmon Clayton Killebrew, an iconic Minnesota Twin known for his prodigious home runs and humble demeanor, passed away Tuesday morning at his Scottsdale, Ariz., home at the age of 74 after a nearly five-month battle with esophageal cancer.
Killebrew was the face of the Twins franchise for 14 seasons after the franchise moved to Minnesota from Washington, D.C. before the 1961 season. He is 11th on the all-time major league home run list with 573, of which 475 were hit wearing a Twins uniform. He has the eight highest single-season totals in Twins' history. And he became the team's first MVP in 1969 and its first Hall of Fame inductee in 1984.
Killebrew became so popular that a root beer was named after him. And his home runs were such a drawing crowd that then-owner Calvin Griffith made the slugger the team's first $100,000 player in 1971.
Killebrew retained strong ties with Minnesota right up to his passing, making several appearances in the Twin Cities each year, and since 2006 making an annual trip to the Twins spring training camp.
"That was probably as good as a moment you can have as a manager, to say you were rubbing elbows with Harmon Killebrew,'' said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.
Killebrew was diagnosed with the cancer during the last week of December, 2010, and vowed to do all he could to fight the disease. He made enough progress with chemotherapy and radiation treatments that he was allowed to visit camp in mid-March.
Although noticeably a few pounds lighter, Killebrew moved well and seemed to be his old self. He spoke of attending the home opener on April 8 and returning for his annual charity golf tournament June 29-30, which coincided with his 75th birthday.
Alas, he made neither.
"When you go through something like this, you're not really sure of what to expect," he said in March. "The thing that's really been an effect on me is how many people have reached out to me. That's one thing I want to say is to thank all of the people who sent cards and letters and e-mails and all of the well-wishes. It's really been overwhelming and special.''
Killebrew played in one of the game's golden eras, with the likes of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Mickey Mantle and Frank Robinson. Killebrew's monstrous home runs set him apart even among his future Hall of Fame peers.
He was only about 5 feet 11 but was 220 pounds -- a burly man with strong arms and stronger hands. He shook hands with such force that it would leave the recipient's hand tingling. But it was those arms, wrists and hands that gave Killebrew a terrific power stroke. His blasts would sail high into the air and carry and carry until they landed beyond the fence.
"Growing up in Southern California, for some reason my favorite players were Willie Mays, Carl Yazstrzemski and Harmon,'' Hall of Famer George Brett, a teammate of Killebrew on the 1975 Kansas City Royals, once said. "If Harmon had hit lefthanded, he would have been Babe Ruth. It wasn't just the number of home runs he hit, but how far they went and how high they went. He hit the highest home runs I had ever seen.''