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.

It’s that time of year again. I go public with my forecast for the major league baseball season. Here’s hoping I’m more correct about Harold Camping prediction about the Second Coming than I was about the Show in 2010

Actually, I wasn’t entirely wrong last year. I did get the NL East (Phillies), wild card (Braves), and Cy Young (Roy Halladay) correct, while in the AL I did have three of the four playoff teams (Rays, Twins, and Yankees) right. So that’s something.

Anyway, for 2011 here’s how I see it:

National League

East: Atlanta Braves
Central: Milwaukee Brewers
West: Colorado Rockies
Wild card: Philadelphia Phillies
NL champion: Atlanta Braves
MVP: Ryan Braun (Brewers)
Cy Young: Roy Halladay (Phillies)
Rookie of the Year: Brandon Belt (Giants)

American League:

East: Boston Red Sox
Central: Chicago White Sox
West: Texas Rangers
Wild card: New York Yankees
AL champion: Boston Red Sox
MVP: Adrian Gonzalez (Red Sox)
Cy Young: Jon Lester (Red Sox)
Rookie of the Year: Jeremy Hellickson (Rays)

World Series: Red Sox over Braves in 5

It’s been a bad year for baseball legends. First Bob Feller, now the Duke of Flatbush:

Duke Snider played center in Ebbets Field and stickball on the streets of Brooklyn. He was immortalized in a song recalling a golden era in baseball and was once part of one of the sport’s great debates.

Snider, the Hall of Famer for the charmed “Boys of Summer” who helped the Dodgers bring their elusive and only World Series crown to Brooklyn, died Sunday. He was 84.

“Duke was a fine man, a terrific hitter and a great friend, even though he was a Dodger,” Giants Hall of Famer Willie Mays said, remembering his crosstown rival.

Snider hit .295 with 407 career home runs, played in the World Series six times and won two championships. But the eight-time All-Star was defined by much more than his stats — he was, after all, part of the love affair between Brooklyn and “Dem Bums” who lived in the local neighborhoods.

Ebbets Field was filled with stars such as Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges during that 1955 championship season. Yet it is Snider’s name that refrains in “Talkin’ Baseball.”

“Willie, Mickey, and the Duke,” goes the popular ballpark song, which marks its 30th anniversary this year.

“Talkin’ Baseball,” by Terry Cashman

The Whiz Kids had won it,
Bobby Thomson had done it,
And Yogi read the comics all the while.
Rock ‘n roll was being born,
Marijuana, we would scorn,
So down on the corner,
The national past-time went on trial.

We’re talkin’ baseball!
Kluszewski, Campanella.
Talkin’ baseball!
The Man and Bobby Feller.
The Scooter, the Barber, and the Newk,
They knew ’em all from Boston to Dubuque.
Especially Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.

Well, Casey was winning,
Hank Aaron was beginning,
One Robbie going out, one coming in.
Kiner and Midget Gaedel,
The Thumper and Mel Parnell,
And Ike was the only one winning down in Washington.

We’re talkin’ baseball!
Kluszewski, Campanella.
Talkin’ baseball!
The Man and Bobby Feller.
The Scooter, the Barber, and the Newc,
They knew ’em all from Boston to Dubuque.
Especially Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.

Now my old friend, The Bachelor,
Well, he swore he was the Oklahoma Kid.
And Cookie played hooky,
To go and see the Duke.
And me, I always loved Willie Mays,
Those were the days!

Well, now it’s the 80’s,
And Brett is the greatest,
And Bobby Bonds can play for everyone.
Rose is at the Vet,
And Rusty again is a Met,
And the great Alexander is pitchin’ again in Washington.

I’m talkin’ baseball!
Like Reggie, Quisenberry.
Talkin’ baseball!
Carew and Gaylord Perry,
Seaver, Garvey, Schmidt and Vida Blue,
If Cooperstown is calling, it’s no fluke.
They’ll be with Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.

Willie, Mickey, and the Duke. (Say hey, say hey, say hey)
It was Willie, Mickey and the Duke (Say hey, say hey, say hey)
I’m talkin’ Willie, Mickey and the Duke (Say hey, say hey, say hey)
Willie, Mickey, and the Duke. (Say hey, say hey, say hey)
Say Willie, Mickey, and the Duke. (Say hey, say hey, say hey)

One of the greatest pitchers ever and one of the last links with the fabulous era of the 1930s in baseball is gone:

Teenage pitching sensation, World War II hero, outspoken Hall of Famer and local sports treasure. Bob Feller was all of them.

One of a kind, he was an American original.

Blessed with a right arm that earned the Iowa farmboy the nickname “Rapid Robert” and made him one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, Feller, who left baseball in the prime of his career to fight for his country, died Wednesday night. He was 92.

Feller was part of a vaunted Indians’ rotation in the 1940s and ’50s with fellow Hall of Famers Bob Lemon and Early Wynn. He finished with 2,581 career strikeouts, led the American League in strikeouts seven times, pitched three no-hitters—including the only one on opening day—and recorded a jaw-dropping 12 one-hitters.

The first pitcher to win 20 games before he was 21, Feller was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1962, his first year of eligibility.

An eight-time All-Star, Feller compiled statistics from 1936 through 1956 that guaranteed his Hall of Fame enshrinement. He led the AL in victories six times and is still the Indians’ career leader in shutouts (46), innings pitched (3,827), walks (1,764), complete games (279), wins and strikeouts.

On top of all that, Feller was the first major league player to enlist in the Navy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, joining on December 8, 1941 and serving with distinction on the USS Alabama. He was an irascible, opinionated old coot who didn’t think much of a lot of today’s players, especially coddled pitchers, who I loved to listen to. He will be sorely missed.

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants, who blew away the Rangers with fantastic pitching and even terrific hitting. It’s the 19th pennant for the Giants, and their 6th World Series title. It’s the first time that my childhood favorites have won it all in my lifetime, and I celebrate their achievement. Say Hey, Stretch, and the Dominican Dandy are, I’m sure, very proud of this team, as should be all their fans and the city of San Francisco.

Oh, and to top off the magic of the Giants’ season, the most valuable player of the Series is shortstop Edgar Renteria, a guy who had three stints on the disabled list this year, regained his starting job in the playoffs, and became only the fourth player to have the game-winning hit in the decisive game of a Series twice (the others are Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio, and Yogi Berra, pretty good company to be in). Edgar’s a former Brave, and he was a favorite of mine in Atlanta. He’s a class guy on a class team, and I’m tickled for him and all his mates.

Well, let’s see: in 2007, I picked the Red Sox in six (they won in four over the Rockies). In 2008, I picked the Rays in 6 (they lost in five to the Phillies). In 2009, I picked the Phillies in 7 (they lost in six to the Yankees). That means if you’re a betting person, go with the Giants, because I’m taking the Rangers in seven. But the truth is that I’ll be happy whichever team wins.

The Giants pitching is incredible, their hitting is mediocre at best, they’ve got virtually no team speed, and their defense has at times been shaky. The Rangers, on the other hand, have pretty good pitching–their bullpen is weaker, as is their fourth starter, but their 1-3 starters can match up with the Giants’ pretty well–but their hitting is way better, their running game is the best in the majors, and their defense has been good enough (though putting Vladimir Guerrero in right field in S.F. may turn out to be a bad move). But the Rangers also have a secret weapon: former Giants catcher Bengie Molina, who knows the Giants’ pitchers better than any scout. The insight that he’ll be able to give the Texas hitters may well give them just enough of an edge to be able to out-score an anemic ‘Frisco offense. Hence my prediction that the Rangers will bring home the first World Series championship in the history of the franchise, as well as the first for the Lone Star State.

For the first time in a long time, I really don’t have a rooting interest, but not because I don’t care. I’ll be delighted to see either team win the crown. The Giants were my childhood favorite–Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Juan Marichal were my favorite players, and I continue to pull for the Giants when they aren’t playing the Braves (who I adopted when I moved to North Carolina and could watch them every night on TBS, at least once we got cable).

The Rangers, on the other hand, are a great story–a team that is exciting to watch, that no one expected to get there, one’s been through a lot of adversity getting out from under bankrupt ownership, one that had to beat the two Beasts of the East to make it, and one that includes perhaps the single most inspiring athlete in sports, Josh Hamilton, who has battled back from alcoholism and drug abuse to become the best player in the American League, if not all of baseball.

In addition, the Giants, who 17 pennants and 5 World Series in New York, haven’t won a championship since moving to San Francisco, while the Rangers–who started as the “new” Washington Senators when the “old” Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961–have never won one. So either way, somebody is going to get a very old monkey off their franchise back. What’s not to like about either result?

The creator of perhaps the most iconic moment in the history of baseball has died:

Bobby Thomson, who hit the famed “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” that won the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants, has died. He was 86.

Thomson connected off Brooklyn ace Ralph Branca for a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning at Polo Grounds in the decisive game of a best-of-three playoff.

The homer and broadcaster Russ Hodges’ ecstatic call of “The Giants win the pennant!” remain one of the signature moments in major league history.

A three-time All-Star as an infielder and outfielder, Thomson hit .270 with 264 career home runs and 1,026 RBIs from 1946-60 with several teams.

Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you’ve probably heard Russ Hodges’ call:

This was before my time, but I was a Giants’ fan when I was a kid. Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Juan Marichal were my heroes, and I knew the history of the Giants franchise like the back of my hand. I always thought it incredible that what many would judge to be baseball’s defining hit came just three years before baseball’s most extraordinary catch (by Willie Mays off the bat of Cleveland’s Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series), by two men who were teammates (even though Thomson had been traded to the Milwaukee Braves before the 1954 season).

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