Twins Hall Of Famer Killebrew Dies At Age 74

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — Minnesota Twins legend Harmon Killebrew passed away Tuesday morning after a battle with esophageal cancer. He was 74.

The former Twins player had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer last December.

The Minnesota Twins released a statement saying Killebrew passed away at his Scottsdale, Ariz., home. They said he died peacefully, with his wife, Nita, and their family at his side.

Killebrew announced last week that his battle with cancer was coming to an end. In a statement last Friday, Killebrew said, “I have exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease. My illness has progressed beyond my doctors’ expectation of cure.”

His family released the following statement about Killebrew’s passing: “He will be missed more than anyone can imagine but we take solace in the fact that he will no longer suffer. We thank you for your outpouring of support and prayers and take comfort in the fact that he was loved by so many.”

Killebrew hit 573 home runs and made 11 All-Star appearances during his 22-year career, spent mostly with the Washington Senators and the Twins. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984 and was fifth on the career home run list when he retired in 1975 after one season with the Kansas City Royals.

Killebrew currently ranks 11th on the all-time homer list, and his eight seasons with 40 or more homers still is tied for second in league history to Babe Ruth.

Killebrew was able to travel to Fort Myers, Fla., for his annual stint as a guest instructor at spring training. He was in good spirits, quipping that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire gave him the OK to show up a little late.

In statement released by the Twins, team president Dave St. Peter said, “No individual has ever meant more to the Minnesota Twins organization and millions of fans across Twins Territory than Harmon Killebrew. Harmon will long be remembered as one of the most prolific home run hitters in the history of the game and the leader of a group of players who helped lay the foundation for the long-term success of the Twins franchise and Major League Baseball in the Upper Midwest.”

Click here to read what others in the baseball community are saying about Killebrew.

The Twins will tribute Killebrew with an old black-and-white photo that will rest beneath home plate at Target Field for the rest of the season.

On Tuesday, six members of the Target Field grounds crew slowly lifted home plate and slipped the plastic-encased photo of Killebrew under it, then replaced it. A team spokeswoman says the picture is believed to have been taken at Met Stadium in the 1960s.

It shows Killebrew winding up for a mighty swing.

The stadium’s video board showed a photo of Killebrew with the years of his life, 1936-2011.

NewsRadio 830 WCCO’s Dave Lee Looks Back At Killebrew’s Life

His Early Years

Harmon Clayton Killebrew was born June 29, 1936, in the Idaho farm town of Payette. He was an all-state quarterback in high school, but it was his power with a baseball bat in his hands that got Killebrew noticed by Washington Senators scout Ossie Bluege.

On Killebrew’s website, Bluege recounts the story of how he signed the 17-year-old to a $30,000 contract in 1953.

“I waited for the rain to stop in Payette, Idaho and then he hit one a mile over the left field fence,” Bluege said. “I stepped it off the next morning and measured it at 435 feet. That convinced me.”
 

His Career

Killebrew broke in with the Washington Senators in 1954 as an 18-year-old. He spent most of his first five seasons in the minors, then hit 42 homers in his first full season in 1959.

The Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961, and Killebrew hit 190 homers in his first four seasons there, including 49 in 1964.

The 11-time All-Star was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1969 after hitting 49 home runs with 140 RBIs and 145 walks, all team records that stand to this day.

“I found out early in life that I could hit a baseball farther than most players and that’s what I tried to do,” Killebrew has said.

Behind their soft-spoken slugger nicknamed “The Killer,” the Twins reached the World Series for the first time in 1965 and back-to-back AL Championship Series in 1969 and 1970.

Former Twins owner Calvin Griffith used to call Killebrew the backbone of the franchise. “He kept us in business,” Griffith said.

The man whose silhouette inspired Major League Baseball’s official logo was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984, the first Twin to be enshrined. Killebrew’s No. 3 jersey was retired in 1975. Killebrew’s easygoing demeanor contrasted starkly with his nickname and standing as one of baseball’s most feared hitters.

“I didn’t have evil intentions,” Killebrew said on his website. “But I guess I did have power.”

Killebrew didn’t just hit balls over the fence, he turned at-bats into longest-drive contests. He never worried much about his short game, preferring instead to swing for the fences, and wound up with a career .256 average.

“I didn’t think much about batting average when I was playing,” Killebrew said.

On June 3, 1967, Killebrew belted the longest home run in Met Stadium history, a shot that reached the second deck of the bleachers in the old park, some 500 feet from home plate.

“He hit line drives that put the opposition in jeopardy,” Bluege once said. “And I don’t mean the infielders. I mean the outfielders.”

Killebrew finished his career with one season in Kansas City in 1975.

Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, said Killebrew personified Hall of Fame excellence and was simply one of the greatest hitters of all time.

“Since joining the Hall of Fame family in 1984, Harmon was a beacon of light among his fellow Hall of Famers, always smiling, always enjoying every moment that life delivered to his doorstep,” she said. “We have so many fond memories of this wonderful baseball hero, and we will miss him enormously.”

WCCO’s Chad Hartman Interviews Bert Blyleven About Harmon Killebrew

Off The Field

In retirement, he became a successful businessman in insurance, financial planning and car sales. He also traveled the country with baseball memorabilia shows and returned to the Twin Cities regularly, delighting in conversations with fans and reunions with teammates.

Click here to read reaction from fans on Killebrew’s passing.

With strong competition from Kirby Puckett in the generation that followed him, Killebrew will go down as perhaps the most popular Twins player in history, possibly in all of Minnesota sports. Killebrew Root Beer is sold at Target Field, and there’s a Killebrew Drive next to the mall where Metropolitan Stadium once stood in suburban Bloomington.

“I never thought anything would compare to being elected into the Hall of Fame, but being able to interact with fans once my playing days were over has been just as gratifying,” Killebrew said.

Killebrew also started the Harmon Killebrew Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to “enriching the quality of life by promoting positive and healthful participation in sports, specifically baseball, by partnering with other (nonprofit) organizations to raise funds for their missions of promoting mental & physical health, education, self-sufficiency and community service.”

The foundation has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for many charitable organizations across the country including the Minnesota Twins Community Fund and Miracle Leagues of Minnesota.

Killebrew and Nita had nine children.

Former Twins Broadcaster Ray Christensen On Harmon Killebrew

Click here for a photo gallery of Harmon Killebrew

To share your thoughts on the official guest book, check out the Official Twins Fan Guestbook.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Comments

One Comment

  1. Rachel says:

    Rest in Peace, Harmon! Your legend will live on!!

  2. Kari says:

    What a great, great man. A legend who will live on forever!
    RIP Harmon Killebrew

  3. wondering says:

    There are no good words…may your family find peace ..you were one of the truly great ones (charecter class and talent)…thank you for being part of our lives.

  4. Tim B says:

    Best twin ever! Best autograph ever! Will miss ya Killer!

  5. cat says:

    Deepest sympathy to Nita and family.
    Harmon’s left a rich legacy in the hearts of Minnesota Twins fans & baseball fans the world over…

  6. red says:

    True Legend! Rest in Peace Harmon!

  7. Mary Jo Cummings says:

    We have lost one of our finest. Harmon, you will live on in the hearts and minds of many people forever. Our secretary just told a beautiful story about her sister writing Harmon when she was young. Harmon wrote her back each time she wrote even though he was an important player on the rise.
    Rest in peace. You have left this world a better place.

  8. Sammi says:

    Blessings and peace to you and your family. Thank you for being an incredible role model for us.

  9. Jack Hoeschen says:

    Rest in Peace Harm you were a class act every day and in every way..

  10. StraycatStrut says:

    Its heart breaking to see this guy pass before his time. He was a GREAT person!!!

  11. Debra Johnson Olson says:

    Growing up in Richfield, watching Harmon play at the Met was the best. My brother once caught his homerun! Mr. Killbrew meant so much to our community – rest in peace Mr. Homerun, we will miss you.

  12. Phil Mcrackin says:

    My childhood baseball hero, will be sadly missed.

  13. stace34 says:

    Rest in Peace Harom Killebrew. A wonderful ballplayer, legendary Twin and most importantly a great man.

  14. Still_Like_the_Twins says:

    I’m glad everyone can agree on a topic for once…

    RIP Killebrew. Sad day for Twins fans everywhere.

  15. jules3819 says:

    Rest in peace Harmon, I grew up watching you play baseball and will never forget you. My grandmother used to tell me during thunderstorms that it was you hitting another homerun, it stopped me from being scared. You were her hero too.

  16. Kevin says:

    Harmon

    May you rest in peace, and may perpetual light shine upon you.

  17. Melissa R. says:

    I remember playing T-Ball and softball at Harmon field in WSP. I was always called Harmon Killebrew because I was known for a slugger. Harmon was a true, authentic, baseball legend and a legend that will be missed. Thank you for your contribution to Twins history and our community.

  18. Jackie says:

    Such sad news….. I grew up in Richfield too (as someone else mentioned) and could hear the cheers from the stadium….as I kid I heard his name so much it was like he was a member of the family. What a charming man. Wishing Peace to his family, friends, and fans everywhere.

  19. Robbie Ole says:

    best twin ever growing up in the 60s going to the met wow great times rest in peace harmon

  20. Big Larry says:

    This man was what a role model should aspire to be. Thanks for the memories.

  21. Craig says:

    No One Could “Protect the Plate” as You Did ,
    We will All Miss You

  22. Pat says:

    Great and Humble Man. Rest in peace Harmon. Wishing Peace to his family and friends. Lots of great memories. My husband’s birthday is the same day 6/29, he has been a great fan.

  23. Joynic says:

    A true baseball legend that will be missed throughout the state of Minnesota and baseball. This state grieves with his family as he was a true gentleman, beloved by all baseball fans. He’ll never be forgotten.

  24. Mary Ann Stogsdill says:

    Sympathy and prayers to your family – you are truly a hero – God Bless

  25. Ruth says:

    My deepest sympathy to the entire Killebrew family. Harmon was and always will be the epitome of baseball – for his power and natural ability, for his kindess and the way he interacted with baseball fans all over. Rest in peace. You will be missed.

  26. Sean says:

    Love Harmon. He is what the Twins are all about and maybe because of him… He will be missed but never forgot.

  27. Betty Lou Miller says:

    Thanks for being a good role model for our children.

  28. Jim says:

    Mr. Killebrew, You’re memory will live on. I will make a point to be sure my 5 year old son understands you are one of the greatest players in MLB. You did it with class, style, talent and hard work. An example of everything I want my son to understand in life.

    Thank you for the memories, and thank you for the inspiration. May your family find peace and cherish your memory.

    Sleep well, fly high!

  29. J Patrick Miller says:

    I grew up in the late 50s and 60s, Harmon was one of my HEROES. He always had time for people, for fans, you never seen any bad press about him. He was a good and decent man. A good example to all of us kids, yesteday and today. My sympathies to his family, I will never forget him.

  30. Ivan says:

    Thanks for the memories

  31. Joe Chandler says:

    Harmon was a Hero to me, of my Youth growing up in Minnesota! I actually got to meet him at Tinker Field, back in Spring Training of 1985. He was So very Nice, shaking my hand, and signing my Scorecard Book. That day… I also got Tony Oliva, Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Garry Gietti, Frank Viola, -And Calvin Griffith..to sign the same Book! -Something I will Never part with! We Miss you already “Killer”!

  32. Cherrie S. says:

    My oldest son and I were fortunate several years ago, to meet Harmon and talk to him. He was truly a great person. Harmon was a very kind and gentle man.

    Rest in peace gentle giant! We will miss you.

  33. Bobby says:

    It’s a sad day in Minnesota. We will miss you Killer!!

  34. Don Nordin says:

    Harmon was the athlete who lived up to the high expections of young people throughout the Upper Midwest. He seemed honored and humbled to be the “idol” of so many…May you rest in peace “Killer”, your legacy lives on.

  35. Marcia K says:

    Harmon Killebre was the very defintion of A CLASS ACT. Every year that the Twins held their spring rally in the IDS Crystal Court I watched time and time again as Harmon took the time to sign every child’s baseball, paper or hat that wanted him to. Or to shake the hand of each adult that reached out to him. He had a gracious bearing and a warm smile to all who approached him. I wish all players in the Major League, no matter what team they play for or how much money they make would strive to emulate this giant amongst men.

  36. Randy says:

    Rest in peace number 3, Sleep well.

  37. Cqui says:

    As a child of the 60s, growing up in the suburbs you had no choice but know the ball players names and their stats by heart. Only 3 or 4 neighbors needed to turn to the ball game on WCCO radio and we had in a sense neighborhood surround sound. You may never had been to a ball game or have a family with interest in baseball and you still new baseball like the back of your hand. Time and time again the name Harmon Killebrew blasted through the neighborhood via radio as the dads worked on their property. You could be riding your bike down the block and keep track of the game, inning by inning. We have truly lost an icon and a legend in my mind!

    1. nice says:

      very nice post.🙂

  38. Annie says:

    Rest in piece Harmon – our thoughts and prayers are with your family.

  39. Godspeed Harmon! says:

    If only the sports heroes of today could have the honor, integrity, love of the sport, and warm, wonderful personality of Harmon Killebrew!

    He is truly one of the all time legends of baseball and we shall miss him terribly.

    God bless you, Harmon – we’ll expect to see you playing baseball up in heaven. Save a seat for us!

  40. wondering says:

    It would be nice for the Target Corp to have Targer Field renamed Killebrew Stadium or similar, Perhaps we could have his “Angel” in the outfield helping our current team. God Speed to the Field of Dreams

    1. Rachel says:

      I like this idea!!! I vote YES!!

    2. Cate says:

      What a wonderful tribute that would be! I love your idea.

  41. twinsfan says:

    a few years ago my dad, husband, and son were lucky enough to go to twinsfest and got to see Harmon, my husband came home and said he didn’t know if my dad or our son was more excited about meeting such a classy man. Our son went on the internet and did all the research of Harmon he could find, he became his favorite ball player. Thank you for being such an inspiration to all baseball fans young and old.

  42. Bob says:

    Class act on and off the field.. Hall of fame with no steriods. No need to put an asterisk next to his numbers,

  43. Gary Fales says:

    what a great pitcher. RIP

  44. Rick says:

    Losing Kirby was heartbreaking, losing Harmon brings tears to my eyes…

  45. Strummer says:

    He went out of hisd way to signed my glove in ’69 at the old met stadium. Back when you could actually talk with the players on the field during batting practice. What a great man he was! God bless ya Killer!

  46. mark m says:

    My idol, my man. The reason I moved to Minnesota all the years ago. He is now playing for the Angels.

  47. red says:

    I love the idea of Killibrew Stadium! What wonderful tribute!

  48. good by to a great human being says:

    THANK YOU HARMON! for you just being YOU! God Speed!

  49. Dan Rakow says:

    I am a Chicago White Sox Fan and I pray that the Good Lord will be with Family,Friends,Minnesota Twins and Major League Baseball during this difficult time period with the passing of Harmon Killebrew.A Minnesota Twins Player that have tremendous respect for.

  50. Skip says:

    He was my childhood hero too. I remember seeing him play at the old met stadium. I remember truing to bat like him. Rest in peace. …very sad day for baseball fans. My condolences to his family. Your Husband / Father was a hero to a lot of us kids.

  51. Kenny Nelson says:

    I thank God for sharing such a talent with us all. Harmon brought such joy to so many people, both on and off the field! My deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Harmon Killebrew.

  52. Tom says:

    Rest in Peace Harmon, i grew up watching you and it was a great ride. Thank you for all the GREAT baseball memories. I hope fans will not grieve but Celebrate what you brought to the game of baseball and to all the charities you were involved in. To your family, God Bless and may He give you comfort and a sense of knowing that Harmon was Great Man and that grieving is all right, but to celebrate his legacy as it was great.

  53. mike says:

    as a kid growing up in Minnesota he was my hero when i played baesball I. pretended to be him I have a grandson who loves playing ball and is very good for his age he is 7 now. we went to lots of games in the dome and i told him about how Harmon would hit tape measure home runs .and now when i pitch to him he likes to pretend that he is Harmon just like me and all my friends did 40 years ago.RIP you wont be forgotten.

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