One of the great sluggers in the history of baseball, who stood all of 5’10” and weighed all of 213 pounds, but could hit a baseball like few ever, has died. According to Associated Press:
Harmon Killebrew, the Minnesota Twins slugger known for his tape-measure home runs, has died at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., after battling esophageal cancer. He was 74.
The team said Killebrew died peacefully Tuesday morning with his wife, Nita, and their family at his side.
He had announced in December that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Last week, Killebrew announced that doctors had deemed his cancer incurable and he would no longer fight the “awful disease.”
Killebrew hit 573 home runs during his 22-year career, 11th-most in major league history. His eight seasons with 40 or more homers still is tied for second in league history to Babe Ruth.
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.
Steve Rushin of Sports Illustrated has a marvelous piece up on the man they called “Killer”:
Nobody had more wrong names than Harmon Killebrew, whose nickname –Killer — always seemed ironic, in the way huge bikers are called Tiny, or sweet puppies are called Mad Dog. When Killebrew retired from baseball in 1975, having circled more bases with his head down than any player in baseball history, he became the first Killer on record to sell insurance in Boise, Idaho.
Harmon’s first name was no better, as it always got shortened to Harm, an ill-fitting verb for a guy who — 30 years after teammate Danny Thompson died of leukemia — kept alive a golf tournament in memory of the Twins shortstop. Killebrew died of cancer Tuesday in Scottsdale, Ariz., at age 74.
Worse still was that surname, Kill-a-Brew, which inspired a college drinking game called Harmon Killebrew. Never mind that the Killer’s beer of choice was the one he marketed: Killebrew Root Beer, a phrase underscored on bottles by the words “Old-Fashioned,” which would complete the public perception of Killebrew — Loyal Friend, Insurance Salesman, Root Beer Aficionado — if he weren’t also a Hall of Fame Slugger.
Read it all, and hoist a frosty one today to a real gentleman.