Harmon Killebrew, 1936-2011

image by Flickr user BaseballBacks, used under a Creative Commons license

Harmon Killebrew, the first Minnesota Twin inducted into the Hall of Fame, passed away today at home in the same manner in which he lived his life, quietly and with exceptional dignity. Esophageal cancer claimed the gentle giant at age 74. At his side was his wife, Nita, and their family. For perspective on Harmon and his accomplishments, I direct you to Joe Posnanski's piece, "The Gentleman Called Killer", published just yesterday.

There's much which can be said about Harmon Killebrew, and what he meant to Twins fans, either as a great player, a matchless ambassador of the game and representative of the Twins, or as a Minnesota icon. Feel free to pay your respects below, either by relating a story about Harmon, by sharing some thoughts on his accomplishments, or any other way you see fit.

43 thoughts on “Harmon Killebrew, 1936-2011”

  1. I am glad that there was such an outpouring of affection and support for Harmon locally and nationally, both when he announced his fight with cancer and when he announced he was ending it.

    One more little story about the icon who to my ears as a young boy was "Harmin' Kill-a-brew" - in other words, the perfect baseball name. In a college oratory class, our assignment was to give a speech arguing for or against something. I made the case that Harmon should be in the HOF. I convinced everyone and got my best grade of any of my speeches. But believe me it wasn't due to my great oratory. Talk about a slam dunk case (to mix sport metaphors).

    Thanks again, #3.

  2. In all my years as a sports fan, which includes much of Harmon's career, I can never remember anyone who had even a slightly negative thing to say about him. A truly class act. He will be missed.

    1. Ditto.

      Charles Barkley famously stated "I am not a role model." Well, Harmon certainly was one. He deserved to be put on a pedestal for modeling the way every parent wishes every public figure should be. Some people act like role models and heroes; Harmon was one.

  3. from the NYT obit

    Killebrew hit many memorable home runs, but his first one remained a favorite. He got it in 1955, against a Detroit left-hander.

    “It came off Billy Hoeft of the Tigers at Griffith Stadium,” Killebrew told Rich Westcott in “Splendor on the Diamond,” a book of interviews with baseball greats.

    “Frank House was the catcher. When I came to the plate, he said, ‘Kid, we’re going to throw you a fastball.’ I didn’t know whether to believe him or not. I hit it out. It was one of the longest home runs I ever hit. As I crossed the plate, House said, ‘That’s the last time I ever tell you what pitch is coming.’ ”

  4. The way I've decided to think about this is that the Front Office at the Big Club decided to call up Harmon because Lyman Bostock, Kirby, Bob Allison, and Earl Battey need some protection in the heart of the order.

    I've probably told this story before, but I once crossed paths with Harmon at the Mall of America. This would have been back in 2001 or 2002. I was at the mall to pick up a book for a culinary school project, and as I was walking out of the store I saw a sign that said Harmon Killebrew was signing autographs on the other side of the Mall until 8:30pm or something like that. Well, it was about 8:27. My friend and I booked it over to the part of the mall where Harmon was and got in line just as they were shutting the ropes. Even though he had been signing autographs for a few hours, the line was moving fairly slowly.

    When we were about four people from the front I panicked, because I realized I didn't have anything for Harmon to sign. I wasn't wearing a Twins cap for some reason, so that was out. No schedule in my wallet, though there was a Gary Gaetti baseball card in there. But I couldn't ask Harmon to sign a beat-up card that wasn't even his. All I had was the book in my hands. This book.

    When it was my turn, I sheepishly handed the book to Harmon. He looked at the title and gave me a funny look. I didn't know how he felt about alcohol, so I worried for a second that I had offended him. I explained what brought me to the Mall in the first place, and how I hadn't seen the sign until after I bought the book, and how I'd hustled to the other side of the Mall just to get a chance to see him, not thinking I'd get to stand in line and get his autograph. He asked me about culinary school, where I was cooking in town, and generally took a legitimate interest in this skinny kid who'd handed him a book about whiskey to sign. Well, he signed it after our chat, and when he handed it back to me I could tell he was holding in a chuckle. His eyes were sparkling a bit, and I was walking on pure air.

    Thanks, Harmon, for being such an amiable icon for so many years. I didn't stick with the cooking career, but I've had pretty good luck right along.

  5. I remember that Harmon didn't make it into the HOF right away (an advanced stat called "Batting Average" was apparently held against him) -- I do not remember him making any fuss about it. Hopefully players learn a leasson from his life, on and off the field.

    1. Hence my speech (see earlier post). My argument boiled down to "every other 500 HR guy is in the hall." If I'd known of OBP back then - and that HK led the AL in it for 4-5 years running - I would have thrown that in there, to.

    1. Second. Wife and I, and now my oldest daughter, are all donors. Really, you can't take it with you.

  6. I'm going to keep my avatar for the remainder of the season. I think it would be great if we could keep at least a smaller version of the image for this post up for the season as well.

  7. At Hardball Times, they have their own post, and there are some comments underneath. There are about 300 thumbs up for the various comments, and not one thumbs down. Not even the internet trolls can muster up anything negative about this guy or those who cherished him.

  8. On a lighter note, ESPN's tribute states Harmon Killebrew retired as the all-time leader in plate appearances without a sacrifice fly.

    It appears we do not have a monopoly on half-bakedness.

  9. I worked for the Mpls Public Housing in the early 2000s and every so often Harmon would come to our Senior housing towers to talk with the shut-ins. You wouldn't believe how happy some of these old guys (and gals) were to see Harm and he would sit for hours talking and signing stuff (including balls for MPHA staffers).

  10. Killebrew, as I stated before, was of an age where I never saw him play, but I watched and loved him on Home Run Derby.

    Apparently, my great-grandfather, a huge Twins fan, couldn't stand him. Nobody in the family could ever tell me why that is. Oh well.

    The one time I saw Killebrew in person was at Puckett's memorial service. Harmon was definitely not much of a public speaker (at least not at that age; maybe he was better in youth), as he meandered all over the place and trailed off, but everyone loved him so much that they didn't care. He also had some great, unexpected praise for Shane Mack, which is definitely the way to my heart.

    1. "What a pleasure to be around. He was always so approachable and his smile made everyone he came into contact with feel special. Unbelievable man."


      "I didn't know him as a baseball player," Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer said, "but I've known him as a human being, and he's as genuine as anyone I've ever met. "He's probably the top three people I've ever met in my life. Definitely three most influential, next to my parents. … "He's going to be in a better place …and be held in just as high of regard in next life as he is right now."


      [USA Today Article]

  11. I want to point you all to this tribute Rick Prescott put up a few days ago when Harmon entered hospice care. I think it will have particular poignancy for the dads among us, but whether you're a father, a son, or both, I think you'll appreciate the power with which Rick's piece concludes.

    1. Great piece, and a great reminder that it's not all about the winning and the losing. Enjoy the games, Citizens!

  12. As a kid I was able to enjoy the last few years of Harmons baseball career. Even then he was always a larger than life figure.

  13. Busy day today. Just heard the news. Harmon has gone where we all must go. But, the world is a better place for him having been here.

  14. Just saw an interview with Harmon. Said if you take his strikeouts and his walks, that's six seasons worth of at-bats. "A walk's not much, and a strikeout is even less. I spent six years doing nothing!" Funny joke, but I hope he realized how valuable those walks were.

  15. Didn't see this one (about the subtle tribute to Killebrew in the MoA) elsewhere mentioned here. I didn't know about that.

    1. To be fair, it's hard to spot on your own. You pretty much have to know about it.

    2. Like Beau said about the Hardball Talk comments, I'm absolutely floored that not any of the Yahoo commentors is trolling at all. Usually they're nearly sub-human in intelligence.

  16. I've seen mentioned a couple places now that the practice of "admiring" a HR was possibly started by Harmon, although they are also quick to mention that not anywhere near the levels that players do nowadays.

    I've never heard of this attribution until today.

    1. I've never heard it before, either, and I don't believe it. Everything I've ever heard or read about Harmon indicates that he was far too considerate a man to have done anything to show up an opponent, and far too modest to have done anything to draw attention to himself.

      1. My guess is that he wanted to make sure the ball was going over the fence so he could avoid that pesky thing called running.

  17. Just this February my folks sent me a ball signed by harmon. He signed it when he made a stop in my hometown to speak about his playing days. My old man had him sign a couple of baseballs for my birthday and one for himself. I talked to my dad today about Harmon passing away so suddenly, and he seemed a little shook. I'm glad that my family stays connected though the Twins even when the news, or season, isn't good.

    1. i won an autographed ball at a game a few years back. everyone got a scratch off card, or something, upon entry. i got a red dot, and for some reason spookied that i'd win. and i did. close as i got to the man, i'm sad to say. regardless, i'm glad i have it now.

  18. By brother Coot and I used to trot up to the field by the church camp, and he would be Harmon, and I, Tony O. Harmon was a fine gentleman of his sport, and will be missed.

    1. Great stuff, E-6. That it involved beating the Yanks only makes it that much sweeter - and mythic. Another reason baseball trumps other sports. What's a offensive lineman going to tell a sick kid - "I'm gonna block two guys at once today for ya, kid"? Or a basketball player - "I'm gonna make a three pointer, kid!"?

      I guess you can send the kid to a draft lottery, which is pretty cool, but not the same as having a hero swat the ball over a fence.

    2. That story reminded me of a skit from SNL way back when Babe Ruth (Belushi) visits a hospital and promises to hit a home run for a very sick black kid (Morris). Ruth then goes out and fails to do it, striking out as the kid groaned in agony. The kid survives and he pays Ruth back by hitting 755 of his own.

  19. From my book of top300 Twins of all time where #3 came in #1

    Killebrew didn’t have the postseason heroics of Puckett or the advanced metrics (VORP, WAR, WARP3) of Carew but he comes in at #1 on this list on the strength of the huge amount of things he has on his resume that can’t be topped by anyone else in the franchise. His 148 OPS+ is more than 10 percent higher than any other Twin with even 500 at bats. He is first in franchise history in win shares (318), and OPS and blows away the competition in HR (475), RBI (1325), games, plate appearances, and WPA. He leads the franchise in most seasons as OPS leader (7) and WPA leader (10!). He also led the team in WAR 3 times. He led the AL in home runs 5 times and in RBI 7 times. He has top 10 finishes in batting average, OPS (10 times), runs (7 times), HR (11 times), and RBI (9 times) which is by far the most amongst all Twins. He received MVP votes 10 times and made 10 all star games. He won the MVP for the 1969 division champs when he hit .276 with 49 HR, 140 RBI, 106 R, and a 177 OPS+. He finished 2nd in 1967 (44 HR, 113 RBI, 174 OPS+) and 3rd in 1962 (48 HR, 126 RBI, 138 OPS+) and for the division champs in 1970 (41 HR, 113 RBI, 159 OPS+). In 3 postseason series he hit 3 home runs and had a .944 OPS. Injuries limited him to being a starter in only 9 of his 14 seasons, but that’s about the only chink in the armor of the #1 Twin

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