Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Remembering The Killer | Baseball Digest

Remembering The Killer | Baseball Digest

No nickname was probably more misleading than that of Harmon “The Killer” Killebrew. The gentle giant (actually he was listed as just 6′, 195 lbs) was one of baseball’s greats, both on and off the field. Sadly, he succumbed to esophageal cancer on Tuesday at age 74, just four days after he ended his cancer treatment and entered hospice care.

Killebrew was born in Payette, ID on June 29, 1936 and became a 17-yr old star in Idaho’s semi-pro baseball. He became the Washington Nationals first “bonus baby” after being recommonded to the club by Idaho senator Herman Welker and the Senators’ farm director Ossie Bluege.

“Killebrew swings a bat better than any youngster I’ve ever seen”, Bluege told the team’s owners. He added that “Perhaps the only player who is faster in the American League is Mickey Mantle of the Yankees.” Killebrew was given a whopping $50K to sign with the club in 1954.

Though he made nine appearances and made a good impression for the Senators in 1954, Killebrew spent most of the new few years in the minor leagues. But in 1958, Killebrew unleashed his bat on the American League and there was to be no going back to the long bus rides in the minors. Though he was never one to hit for average, he was a .256 lifetime hitter, Killebrew’s first full season in the Majors saw him hit 42 home runs and drove home 105 runs. It was the first of six home runs titles he won and the first of eight seasons in which he hit 40 or more home runs.

Bob Addie of the Washington Post profiled Harmon Killebrew during his final season in baseball in 1975. Click here to read this Baseball Digest Classic.

Killebrew was a member of 11 All-Star teams, won the AL MVP Award in 1969 when he hit .276-49-140 and walked 140 times, and was a member of the 1965 World ChampionTwins. He was also a member of a pair of division winners in 1969-1970. People forget just how versatile Killebrew was; in addition to a combined 1,760 games played between first and third base, he also played 470 games in the outfield.

Killebrew was released by the Twins after the 1975 season and played one more year with the Kansas City Royals before he retired from baseball. His 573 career home runs, most of them tape-measure shots, and his 1,584 RBI earned him induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984. The street that fronted old Metropolitan Stadium (now site of the Mall of America) was named “Killebrew Drive” in his honor, his number three was retired, and Gate 3 of the new Target Field was named in tribute to him. Among his many charitables efforts was the start of the Danny Thompson Memorial Golf Tournament in honor of his former teammate who died of leukemia in 1976 at age 29. Killebrew helped to raise more than $8MM for leukemia and cancer research.

After retirement, Killebrew worked as a broadcaster and hitting instructor, and later was involved in the securities industry. He first suffered esophogeal issues in the early 1990′s and was diagnosed with cancer last December. He is survived by his second wife, Nita, nine children, 23 grand-children and two great grand-children.

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