Harmon Killebrew, a major league baseball legend, died of esophageal cancer at his Scottsdale, Ariz., home Tuesday. He was 74.
Killebrew played professional baseball for 22 years. Among his great achievements, the slugger finished 11th on baseball’s all-time home run list. His eight seasons with 40 or more homers are still tied for second in league history to Babe Ruth.
Killebrew was born June 28, 1936, in Payette, Idaho.
Major media outlets around the country are recalling his deeds and sharing memories.
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale quoted John Boggs, a close friend who handled part of Killebrew’s marketing.
“I love that man, he brought out the best in everyone,” Boggs said. “He was the first player I idolized as a kid. … I grew up, and achieved a dream, meeting and doing business with my idol. You always hoped and prayed he’d be everything your idol would be. He was much more than that. I can’t think of a nice, warmer, more genuine person I’ve ever met.”
Michael Dorsher, of the Star Tribune, recalled a 1985 memory when Killebrew spent part of the morning in a futile attempt to hit a baseball 600 feet across the Mississippi River. With more than 1,000 fans gathered around, the slugger tossed balls up and swatted them ball after ball into the muddy Mississippi, none landing more than halfway across.
''That was kind of a disappointing experience,'' Killebrew said later.
Killebrew played more than a decade in Minnesota with the Twins and was arguably the most popular player in the franchise’s 51-year history.
Minnesota veteran Michael Cuddyer, who was in Seattle with the Twins for a game Tuesday against the Mariners, considered Killebrew a mentor and friend.
"It's an extremely sad day, not just in Minnesota but in all of baseball," Cuddyer said. "The world lost a great human being today."
Clark C. Griffith, son of the former Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith, recalled some humorous memories of Killebrew in an article by Dick Heller of the Washington Times.
“I feel a great sadness because he was part of my life for half a century,” Griffith said. “I never saw him take a bad swing. It was always perfect, just perfect.”
Hal Bodley, an MLB.com columnist, interviewed Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia Phillies manager and a former teammate of Killebrew.
When Manuel was a Twins rookie in 1969, his locker was between those of Killebrew and Harmon's best friend, the late Bob Allison.
"At the time I thought it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me," says Manuel, who played four seasons with the Twins. "He and Allison both helped me a lot. I'd go to dinner with them and talk baseball by the hours.
"Killer (a nickname for Killebrew) liked to tell jokes and laugh a lot, but he was really a quiet guy. When it came to hitting, he was a big help for me. He'd play every game and I sat on the bench most of the time. He'd talk to me about his hitting because I was watching from the bench."
New York Times writer Richard Goldstein wrote that Killebrew developed the strength to hit home runs by lifting 10-gallon milk cans as an Idaho farmhand. Goldstein reported that Killebrew was also a star quarterback and almost went to play college football and baseball at the University of Oregon, but dropped the college plans when he was offered a three-year contract that included a $12,000 bonus.
The Pioneer Press reprinted the transcript of a 2006 interview with Killebrew.
Killebrew was 70 years old at the time. Among many topics, he discussed comic books, his high school years and the biggest influences in his life. He said he liked Clint Eastwood movies. His favorite book was “The Silence of Hitting,” by Ted Williams. He disliked rap music. At the end of the interview, he told the reporter he wants his epitaph to read: "Here lies Harmon Killebrew, who was a good friend and tried to help others."
Steve Rushin, a columnist for Sports Illustrated, wrote that Killebrew’s drink of choice was root beer.
Joe Posnanski wrote that Killebrew’s nickname “Killer” fit Killebrew the way “Jazz” fits Utah.
Many have reported that Killebrew was the model for MLB’s iconic silhouetted batter logo. ESPN.com’s Paul Lukas is reporting that is not the case.
Jim Ison’s 1991 book, “Mormons in the Major Leagues,” reports that Killebrew was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1966, just past the midway point of his baseball career.
“His demeanor and quiet positivism were widely recognized and created a good image of the church in baseball upon which future players would build,” Ison wrote.
Ison also cited a quote from Bob Fowler, who covered the Twins for many years and who wrote for the Sporting News, regarding Killebrew. Fowler said Killebrew was “A game winner. A leader. An inspiration. Respected. A public relations man. A franchise. Harmon Killebrew has meant all of that to Minnesota.”
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Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press in Minnesota wrote a lengthy piece that mentioned Killebrew’s Mormon faith. The article says Killebrew was a devout Mormon who never smoked or drank. He was described as an all-American boy, the kind you’d love to have in your family.
He was teased by teammates for his humility. Smoking a pipe outside the clubhouse in 1963, Jim Lemon told a Sports Illustrated writer that Killebrew’s only vice was an insatiable appetite for ice cream.