In our opinion: More than a ballplayer

Published: Thursday, May 19 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Harmon Killebrew's Hall-of-Fame baseball stats can be found elsewhere in the newspaper. It is the man himself that concerns us, and that ultimately will be his legacy to sports and the world. By all accounts, he was a Hall of Famer in that department, too.

Killebrew was a Mormon athlete who touched others by living his religion. But it wasn't an act. He lived that way well before he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints partway through his major league career. He was known as "killer," a play on his last name and on the many home runs he hit, but he was anything but an imposing or arrogant figure. As the Wall Street Journal reported this week, the "killer" would often turn to an umpire and say "good call" — on a strike that went against him.

Contrast that with the attitude so prevalent in sports today that competition requires using every advantage, honest or otherwise. The great shame is that Killebrew's spot on the all-time home run hitting list has moved down in recent years because of the performance of players linked to steroid use. But that is baseball's shame, not Killebrew's.

After his death this week at the age of 74, Killebrew's has been eulogized as someone who brought out the best in others; who was nice, warm and genuine. The Payette, Idaho native may be the most popular player ever among fans of the Minnesota Twins, and that is due only partly to the home runs he hit.

Asked by the St. Paul Pioneer Press what he would like on his tombstone, he said, "Here lies Harmon Killebrew, who was a good friend and tried to help others." That's not a bad legacy, regardless of how hard you can hit a ball.

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