march 2011

harmon killebrew

Class Personified

Remembering Harmon Killebrew, Who Played the Game Right

June 29, 1936-May 17, 2011

Anyone who had the honor of seeing him play knew two immutable facts about Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, who died of esophageal cancer on May 17 at the age of 74: he never hit a cheap home run, and he exuded class on and off the field.

At 5’11” he was a small in height for a first baseman but with 210 pounds on his frame he seemed much bigger, even more so when he launched a bomb into the far reaches of the ballpark. He played 22 years with the Senators, Twins and Kansas City Royals and was second only to Babe Ruth in American League home runs, and at his retirement was the AL career leader among right-handed batters, a record since surpassed by Alex Rodriguez. He became one of the AL's most feared power hitters of the 1960s, belting 40 homers in a season eight times during an era in which pitching was dominant. In 1965, he helped the Minnesota Twins reach the World Series, where they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He had his finest season in 1969, hitting 49 home runs, recording 140 runs batted in (RBI), and winning the AL Most Valuable Player Award. Killebrew led the league in home runs six times and in RBI three times, and he was named to eleven All-Star teams. In the 1960s, no player hit more home runs than Killebrew.

A classy, dignified and quiet man, Killebrew could not have fathomed a player standing at home plate and admiring his home runs, as is all-too-common among today’s power hitters. When he hit a pitch to the outer reaches of the outfield, he ran to first base and didn’t break into a home run lope until the ball was safely over the fence. Off the field, there was no after-game carousing. Killebrew converted to Mormonism, joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while he was still an active major leaguer, and never smoked or drank. Asked how he liked to spend his time away from the ballpark, Killebrew answered, “Well, I like to wash dishes, I guess.”

At his retirement after the 1974 season, Killebrew had played in 2,435 games; had 8,147 at bats; scored 1,283 runs; had 2,086 hits; 290 doubles; 24 triples; 573 home runs; 1,584 runs batted in; a batting average of .256; an On Base Percentage of .376; and a slugging percentage of .509. Incredibly, he was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame until his fourth year on the ballot. A street on the south side of Minnesota’s mammoth Mall of America, where the old Metropolitan Stadium once stood, has been named Killebrew Drive in his honor and in 1974 he was the first Twins player to have his number (3) retired.

Harmon Killebrew’s Harmonic History, Part 1
Harmon Killebrew tells his story and discusses his charity. Posted at YouTube by CTVnorthsuburbs

Harmon Killebrew’s Harmonic History, Part 2
Harmon Killebrew tells his story. Posted at YouTube by CTVnorthsuburbs

In his post-baseball life, Killebrew worked in the insurance and securities business, was active in a number of charities and was chairman of his own Harmon Killebrew Foundation. In honor of his late teammate Danny Thompson, who died of leukemia, Killebrew founded the Danny Thompson Memorial Golf Tournament in 1977 with former Idaho congressman Ralph Harding. Played annually in late August in Sun Valley, Idaho, it has donated more than $8.6 million to leukemia and cancer research.

Killebrew had five children with his wife Elaine before their divorce in 1989. In 1990, he married Nita and their family consisted of nine children, 23 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

On December 29, 2010, Killebrew announced that he had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and started treatment. On May 13, 2011, Killebrew he announced that he was ceasing treatment and entering hospice care, because his illness had progressed beyond his doctors' expectation of cure. To honor Killebrew, the Twins announced that they would wear their 1961 throwback alternate jerseys at home for the remainder of the 2011 season.  Killebrew died on May 17, 2011 at his home in Scottsdale, AZ, a month and a half short of his 75th birthday. Following word of his death, the Twins released an official statement:

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. However, more importantly Harmon's legacy will be the class, dignity and humility he demonstrated each and every day as a Hall of Fame-quality husband, father, friend, teammate and man.

Twins' President David St. Peter, Star Tribune

A worthy tribute to Harmon Killebrew by Minnesota’s KSTP Channel 5 news upon learning of the slugger’s death. ‘I lost a hero today,’ says a teary-eyed Jack Morris.

Upon entering the hospice, Killebrew released a final statement to the public.

"It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end. With the continued love and support of my wife, Nita, I have exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease. My illness has progressed beyond my doctors' expectation of cure.

"I have spent the past decade of my life promoting hospice care and educating people on its benefits. I am very comfortable taking this next step and experiencing the compassionate care that hospice provides.

"I am comforted by the fact that I am surrounded by my family and friends. I thank you for the outpouring of concern, prayers and encouragement that you have shown me. I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with Nita by my side."

harmon killebrew

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024