Hall of Famer Killebrew dies

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Associated Press
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
— Harmon Killebrew, the affable, big-swinging Hall of Famer whose tape-measure home runs made him the cornerstone of the Minnesota Twins and perhaps the most popular player in the team’s 51-year history, died Tuesday after battling esophageal cancer. He was 74.

The Twins said Killebrew passed away peacefully at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., with his wife, Nita, and their family at his side. He announced his diagnosis just six months ago, and last week Killebrew said he was settling in for the final days of his life after doctors deemed the “awful disease” incurable.

Killebrew is 11th on baseball’s all-time home run list after an exceptional 22-year career. His eight seasons with 40 or more homers still is tied for second in league history to Babe Ruth, and his uppercut swing formed the silhouette that inspired Major League Baseball’s official logo.

At Target Field, where the video board showed a picture of Killebrew, members of the Twins’ ground crew slowly lifted home plate and slipped under it a plastic-encased, black-and-white photo of Killebrew winding up for a swing. The picture, believed to be from the 1960s, will stay beneath the plate the rest of the season.

Former Twins pitcher Jack Morris, who grew up in Minnesota watching Killebrew play, was choked up at a news conference to talk about the slugger’s death.

“I lost a hero today,” Morris said.

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 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.

Killebrew was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984, the first Twin to be enshrined. Killebrew’s No. 3 jersey was retired in 1975.

Harmon Clayton Killebrew was born June 29, 1936, in the Idaho farm town of Payette.

He didn’t just hit balls over the fence, he turned at-bats into long-drive contests.

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.

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

Killebrew and Nita had nine children. 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.

Former Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek, who grew up a few blocks from the ballpark where he and his buddies flocked to the left-field bleachers to watch No. 3 bat fourth for the home team and see if they could catch one of his soaring homers.

“Harmon was, to me, Paul Bunyan with a uniform on. Tough to see him go,” Hrbek said.

Last updated: 5:11 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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