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Brad Rock: Killer's eyes see trouble in baseball

Published: Tuesday, May 9 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

For a man who hit 573 home runs using nothing more performance enhancing than salt tablets, it's a sad state of affairs. Killer wants his game back.

Four decades after Harmon Killebrew was one of baseball's great players, in possibly its greatest era, he feels it in his stomach and in his bones. Worse yet, the blue eyes that could freeze a pitcher in his tracks can see it. They aren't what they once were, Killebrew, 69, was saying Monday night at Franklin Covey Field. In fact, they're finally starting to concede to time.

"I always had such great eyesight, but things are starting to get just a little bit fuzzy now," he said.

But they're still good enough to see what has happened to his game.

"It really makes me sad," he added. "To me, the integrity of the game has been compromised and we've got to get it back on track."

Baseball is in, well, Bondage.

Killebrew isn't one to criticize. Modesty and respect are among his gifts, along with eyes that could count the stitches on a howling fastball and a swing that could launch 500-foot homers. But that doesn't mean he doesn't know or care that the biggest story today is about steroid investigations, not pennant races.

"To have that is awful," said Killebrew. "It makes me sad."

He was in Salt Lake as a spokesman for "Healing Hands for Haiti," a project designed to provide education, physical rehabilitation and medical treatment for Haitians. He'll be part of a charity golf tournament Sept. 11-13 at Thanksgiving Point (www.killebrewcharitygolf.com).

Rescuing impoverished Haiti, though, might be easier than saving baseball.

"Baseball is very healthy, if you want to know the truth — at least economically," said Killebrew. "But I'm concerned about the cloud over the game. It definitely bothers me more than anything else."

Killebrew, of course, is more than an ordinary ballplayer clucking his tongue. He hit more home runs in his career than any American League player except Babe Ruth and Mark McGwire. As a Minnesota Twin, he led the American League in homers six times and hit 40 or more eight times.

Former Detroit Tigers manager Paul Richards once observed, "The homers he hit against us would be homers in any park, including Yellowstone."

And he did so without steroids or weight-training, which was then believed to bind a player's flexibility.

Understandably, following home-run races is more than a passing interest to Killebrew.

But now he also worries. Not just about Bonds, but McGwire, Sammy Sosa and all others suspected of cheating with performance enhancers. He worries about them personally.

"A major issue is what's going to happen five, 10, 15 years down the road," he said. "They could have some serious health problems. I don't know what's going to happen."

Everyone, he says, is to blame — players, management, fans, media. "We all like to see the ball go out of the park."

In 1998, when McGwire and Sosa were both on the way to breaking Roger Maris' single-season record, Killebrew was on the phone one day with Ted Williams, when Williams abruptly ended the conversation. The reason: the St. Louis Cardinals were on TV.

"He cut me off," says Killebrew.

It was compelling television. Who knew they might have been looking at a freak show?

Although he has no solid answers on how to deal with baseball's biggest problem, he says he's optimistic. He spoke with the Salt Lake Bees before Monday's doubleheader, calling it a nice, respectful group. Same thing happened last year. Great kids. They even knew his name.

Maybe, he was saying, there is hope. Perhaps tomorrow's players have learned their lessons well and will play as he did — with their hearts and their devotion and their gifts, rather than chemicals.

"Maybe," he said hopefully, "this new group will make a huge difference in the game."

Maybe they'll even come to see it through Killer's eyes.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com

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