Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rant #507: The Killer Is Gone

Harmon Killebrew, one of the greatest baseball players ever, and certainly one of the best ballplayers when I was a kid in the 1960s, died yesterday of cancer. He was 74.

Playing almost his entire career with the Minnesota Twins--who moved to Minnesota after their tenure as the Washington Senators ended--"The Killer," as he was known, hit 573 homeruns during his more than 20-year career.

And his tape-measure homers were probably only matched by those launched by Mickey Mantle during this period.

He hit 40 or more homers during eight seasons, and was a fine first baseman too.

He made 13 All-Star teams, won one MVP award (1969), and was voted to Baseball's Hall of Fame in 1984.

Legend has it that Killebrew was discovered in Idaho, a stocky farm boy who built his body through hard work, such as lifting heavy milk cans, each and every day.

A standout high school athlete, legend has it that Killebrew was "discovered" by Idaho Sen. Herman Welker, who touted Killebrew enough to Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith that Griffith sent the team's farm director to Idaho for a scouting trip.

Although I remember his homeruns, my lasting memory of Killebrew is not a good one.

Playing in the 1968 All-Star Game, he was playing first base, and reached for a throw. He lost his footing and did a split. I have never seen anyone in such agony. He was carried off the field, still in intense pain.

But to see him give 110 percent at an All-Star Game, a game which many players use as an excuse for a vacation, was something that I will never forget.

In later years, he spent several seasons as a broadcaster and spring training instructor.

He was one of the most well-liked people in baseball, and although he struggled in later years, he never missed a spring training.

He will be missed.

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