Killebrew: Another Good Man Gone

11 Times an All Star; 573 HR in 22 years; Hall of Fame in 1984.

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Harmon Killebrew died yesterday in a Scottsdale, Arizona hospice of cancer at the age of 74. In giving up another great one in its recent stream of losses among the Hall of Fame living, baseball gave up, perhaps, one of its most dedicated special singular talent players of all time.

My own partiality to Harmon Killebrew goes back to the fact that he came of age in the big leagues at just about the same time I was growing into my own adult world beyond kid baseball life. Killebrew was special in many ways, but one thing has stuck out in my own recognition and now memory of him through this very moment. Back when my generation was growing up, and we were also being told, ad nauseum, to pick out something we wanted to do in life and go do it, Harmon Killebrew was living those words.

Killebrew broke into the big leagues with the Washington Senators in 1954 at the age of 18. Except for one last limited-use  season as a Kansas City Royal in 1975, he spent his entire big league career as a fantastic slugger for the Washington Senators (7 years) and Minnesota Twins (14 years) franchise, anchoring both as the last great Senator and the first great Twin. Along the way, “the man they called ‘The Killer’ banged out 573 home runs, good enough for 11th place on the all time big league career home run list.

Coming to the Senators almost straight from high school in Payette, Idaho, Killebrew recognized early that he possessed an ability to hit a baseball a very long way – and longer than most other players he encountered. As such, hitting baseballs a long way became his early passion, the thing he wanted to do in life.

It was the sort of thing that paid the big bucks, if a player had both the passion for it and the matching ability to do it – and Harmon Killebrew did. By his own admission, he never gave much thought to batting average, but he never forgot either what his bosses paid him to do. Hitting the very long ball into space when he did catch up with a pitch was both his everyday meal ticket and, based upon the spectacular results of his effort over time, his eventual passport in 1984 to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Home Runs 
All Time Leaders‘Top 11 Players’
Name Home Runs Rank
Barry Bonds 762 1
Hank Aaron 755 2
Babe Ruth 714 3
Willie Mays 660 4
Ken Griffey 630 5
Alex Rodriguez 613 6
Sammy Sosa 609 7
Jim Thome 589 8
Frank Robinson 586 9
Mark McGwire 583 10
Harmon Killebrew 573 11

Killebrew’s .256 lifetime batting average is testimony to his lack of concern for hitting percentage. Had he tried to become a placement or Punch and Judy style hitter for the sake of keeping defenses honest and helping his batting average to climb, he knew from early on that it would not have been worth the damage to his power production – and power was not merely measured by his homer total alone. Killebrew also concluded his career with 1,584 runs batted in – and driving runners across the home plate pay station is what owners really pay their slugging stars  to do. It also doesn’t hurt if those home runs are Goliath-level works of power art that leave the ballpark on jaw-dropping arches into the wild blue yonder.

Oh, Harmon, since you’re up there in Heaven now, would you mind taking batting practice over Houston today, and maybe for a few weeks to come? We could use the rain produced by the thunder of your bat.

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3 Responses to “Killebrew: Another Good Man Gone”

  1. Bill McCurdy Says:

    E-Mail from Dan Lovett, formerly of KTRK-TV, Channel 13 in Houston …

    I knew Killebrew from my days in High School in Payette, Idaho. Although he was three years ahead of me in school, he was my hero and do remember him as an oustanding athlete, not only in baseball…but basketball and football as well. I saw him poke many home runs into that spud field beyond our little baseball stadium in Payette. It was such a celebration the day that Idaho Senator Herman Welker took him to Clark Griffith, the owner of the Senators inDC. Over the years, my travels with ABC kept me in contact with the Payette Pounder and we often visited whenever I was in a town where he was playing.

    You are most correct…Another Good Man is Gone.

    Thanx for the nice article.

    Dan

  2. Al, Oshkosh, WI Says:

    Killebrew was one of the top 6 or 7 sluggers of all time, as he piled up his 573 career HRs while playing in the pitching-dominated 1960s. That was a decade when smacking 20 or more homers was enough to earn the “power hitter” label. Killebrew’s .256 BA was better than average for the era, and he had a ton of walks for a fine .383 career OBP.

  3. bob copus Says:

    i had the pleasure of seeing him play in fenway park once or twice in the late 60’s ealry 70’s. I was just a kid but I remember wanting to go so I could see him play. He was a true baseball man.

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