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Harmon Clayton Killebrew ( ; born June 29, 1936) is a former Major League Baseball player. In a 22-year major league career, he was second only to Babe Ruth in American League home runs and retired as the career leader in home runs by a right-handed batter (the record has since been broken). He is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Famemarker, inducted in 1984.

Killebrew was a stocky , 210 pounds (95.3 kg) hitter with a short, compact swing that generated tremendous power. He became one of the American League's most feared power hitters of the 1960s, belting 40 homers in a season eight times. In , he helped the Twins reach the World Series, where they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He had his finest season in , hitting 49 home runs, driving in 140 runs, and winning the MVP Award. Killebrew led the league in home runs six times, in RBIs three times, and was named to eleven All Star teams. As a result, he was nicknamed "Killer" and was also called "Hammerin' Harmon". Killebrew never hit 50 home runs in a single season, but he did hit 49 homers in a season twice (1964, 1969). He hit the most home runs for any player in the 1960s.

With exceptional upper-body strength, Killebrew was known not just for home run frequency but also home runs of great distance, known as "tape measure homers". He hit the longest measured home runs at the ballparks in Minnesotamarker and Baltimoremarker, and was the first of just four batters who hit a baseball over the left field roof at Detroitmarker.

Despite his "Killer" nickname and his powerful style of play, Killebrew was in fact a quiet, kind man who was not much given to the partying lifestyle enjoyed by his peers. Asked once what he liked to do for fun, Killebrew replied, "Well, I like to wash dishes, I guess." Killebrew was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, and his wife was a lifelong member.

Early life and school

Harmon Killebrew was born in Payettemarker, Idahomarker to Harmon Clayton, Sr. and Katherine Pearl (May) Killebrew. He was the youngest of four children. His father, a painter and sheriff, was a member of an undefeated Millikin College football team. He was later named an All-American under eventual Pro Football Hall of Famemarker coach Greasy Neale. According to family legend, Harmon Killebrew's grandfather was the strongest man in the Union Army, winning every available heavyweight wrestling championship. Clayton encouraged Harmon and his brothers to stay active in various sports before his sudden death in 1953 at age 59.

As a child, Harmon played baseball at Walter Johnson Memorial Field, named after the Hall of Fame pitcher who spent part of his childhood in Idaho. Killebrew earned 12 letters in various sports and was named an All-American quarterback at Payette High Schoolmarker. His uniform number was later retired by the school. He was offered an athletic scholarship by the University of Oregon, but opted to attend the College of Idahomarker instead.

In the early 1950s, Idaho Senator Herman Welker told Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith about Harmon Killebrew, who was batting .847 for a semi-professional baseball team at the time. Griffith told his farm director Ossie Bluege about the tip and Bluege flew to Idaho to watch Killebrew play. The Boston Red Sox also expressed interest but Bluege succeeded in signing him to a $50,000 ($ in current dollar terms) contract on June 19, 1954.

Major league career

Washington

Killebrew's contract put him under Major League Baseball's Bonus Rule which required that he spend two full seasons on the major league roster. He made his debut four days after signing with the Senators and at age 17 was the youngest player in the major leagues at the time. On August 23, 1954, Killebrew made his first start in the second game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics. He hit two singles and a double as the Senators won the game, 10–3. In 1954 and 1955 combined, Killebrew struck out 34 times in only 93 at bats, contributing to a .215 batting average, with four home runs. Killebrew also had defensive difficulties at third base where he played behind veteran Eddie Yost.

In 1956, Killebrew's bonus period expired and he was sent to Charlotte of the South Atlantic League. He returned to the majors in early May. On May 29, he was batting .000 for Washington but was forced into action when regular second baseman Pete Runnels was injured early in the game. Killebrew hit two long home runs in the game including only the second ball ever hit over a wire barrier in Memorial Stadiummarker's center field. Through June 16, he had a .115 average and was soon sent back to Charlotte where he finished with a .325 batting average and 15 home runs in 70 games. Killebrew spent most of 1957 and 1958 with the Southern Association's Chattanooga Lookouts. In 1957, he hit a league-high 29 home runs with 101 RBIs and was named to the All-Star Game despite a shoulder injury and a home stadium where hitting home runs to left field was difficult. While Killebrew was in Chattanooga, he became the only player to hit a home run over the center field wall at Engel Stadium, from home plate. In 1958, he was briefly promoted to Indianapolis of the American Association but struggled and was sent back to Chattanooga.

Breakout season

Calvin Griffith, who had taken over the Senators after his uncle Clark died in 1955, decided Killebrew was ready to become the Senators' regular third baseman and traded the 32-year-old Eddie Yost to the Detroit Tigers on December 6, 1958. Killebrew had a slow April in 1959, his first season as a regular in the majors, but picked up the pace in May. From May 1 to May 17, he had five multi-home run games and his first five-RBI game on May 12. With 28 home runs by mid-season, he started the first 1959 All-Star Game and was a reserve in the second. Killebrew garnered so much attention in Washington that he was visited by President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower who frequently attended games. The Cincinnati Reds offered Griffith $500,000 for Killebrew but were turned down. Killebrew finished the season with 42 home runs to tie for the American League lead as well the Washington single-season record set by his teammate Roy Sievers two years earlier. Despite his breakout season, he was ineligible for the Rookie of the Year Award because of his previous sparse experience. His teammate Bob Allison won the award instead. In 1960, Killebrew missed action in the first half but hit 27 of his 31 home runs in the second half.

Killebrew's arrival did little to improve the Senators' record, as they finished in the second division every year he played in Washington, including four years in last place. The Senators moved to the Twin Cities and became the Minnesota Twins in 1961.

Minnesota

For the franchise's first year in Minnesota, Killebrew was named team captain by manager Cookie Lavagetto. He responded by hitting 46 home runs, breaking the franchise record he had shared with Roy Sievers. He also accumulated 122 RBIs, batted a career-best .288, slugged over .600 for the only time in his career and, on June 12, 1961, had the only five-hit game of his career. The Twins lost that game and, overall, finished 20 games under .500. Killebrew was named to both All-Star games and hit a pinch hit home run in the first. In addition to home runs, he also led the Twins in runs, RBIs, total bases and walks, and tied for the team lead in triples.

Killebrew had decent speed until he suffered pulled hamstring injuries in 1960 and 1961, pulled quadriceps in 1962, and a knee injury prior to spring training of 1963 that cost him the entire spring and 20 regular season games. He played left field in 1962 and 1963. Knee surgery before the 1964 season gave him one more season in the outfield. Killebrew played outfield despite a below average throwing arm. After the 1964 season, he moved to the infield for the remainder of his career.

Killebrew's offense finally reflected in the standings in 1962. He hit 48 home runs and 126 RBIs, both career highs at the time, and both leading the American League. The 48 home runs broke Killebrew's own franchise record set the year before. No one else in the A.L. hit as many as 40. The Twins' record improved from 70-90 in 1961 to 91-71, five games behind the eventual World Champion New York Yankees. Killebrew's average dropped from .288 in 1961 to .243 and he struck out a career-worst 142 times. No one else struck out more than 118 times. After hitting under .200 in both April and June, Killebrew missed the 1962 All-Star Game, the last season he was not an All-Star before 1972. On July 18, Killebrew and Bob Allison became the first teammates since 1890 to hit a grand slam in the same inning as the Twins scored 11 runs in the first. Killebrew again led the Twins in total bases, RBIs and walks.

In 1963, Killebrew hit 45 home runs despite missing the second half of April and early May. The Twins were 9-13 when Killebrew returned but they recovered to post a 91-70 record. With the Twins well out of contention on September 21, Killebrew hit three home runs in a game for the only time in his career. Killebrew again broke his own franchise home run record by hitting 49 in 1964.

In 1965, the Twins won the American League pennant. On July 11, the day before the All-Star break, the defending American League champion New York Yankees took a one-run lead in the top of the 9th inning but Killebrew hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the 9th to win. It was considered the most dramatic home run in Twins history until 1991. At the time, the Yankees had won all but two league pennants since 1949 but they would not win another until 1976. Two days later, Killebrew started the All-Star Game in front of his Twins fans in Minnesota and hit a game-tying two-run home run erasing what had been a 5-0 National League lead. The National League wound up winning the game anyway. Killebrew drove in the tying or winning run seven times in 1965 before August 2. On that date, Twins third baseman Rich Rollins made a poor throw to Killebrew at first. In trying to save the play, Killebrew's elbow was dislocated when he and the runner collided and Killebrew was out of action until mid-September. In his absence, the Twins went 28-19 and even extended their first place lead. In the 1965 World Series, Killebrew and Zoilo Versalles led the Twins with .286 batting averages but the team hit only .195 overall. Killebrew hit his only World Series home run in Game 4 off the Los Angeles Dodgers' Don Drysdale but the Twins lost that game. Minnesota was shut out in three other games, twice by Sandy Koufax, and the Dodgers won the series in seven games.

Killebrew hit 44 home runs with 113 RBIs and the Twins went 91-71 in 1967, but it was the year of the Boston Red Sox. With Minnesota holding a one-game lead, their last two games were against Boston. Killebrew had two hits in each game and hit a home run in the first but Boston won both games to win the pennant. Killebrew then finished a distant second in Most Valuable Player Award voting to Boston's triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski. On June 3, 1967, Killebrew blasted the longest home run ever hit at the Twins' Metropolitan Stadiummarker, a shot that landed in the second deck of the bleachers.

1968 was an off-year for Killebrew but he was still selected for his 8th All-Star Game. After a strong start, he hit below .200 in both May and June and his average stood at .204 with 13 home runs going into the break. In the All-Star Game itself, Killebrew stretched for a ball while playing first base and slipped on the Astrodomemarker artificial surface rupturing his left medial hamstring. The injury was considered career-threatening but he returned to limited action in September. The Twins finished below .500.

MVP and return to postseason

After his serious 1968 injury and enduring seven months of rehabilitation, Killebrew was still in pain but rebounded to win his only Most Valuable Player Award in 1969. He set career highs in RBIs, runs, walks and on-base percentage, tied his career high with 49 home runs, and even registered eight of his 19 career stolen bases. He led the American League in home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage, walks, and intentional walks and knocked in the winning run 20 times while playing in all 162 games. His home run, RBI, and walk totals from 1969 are all still team records. On July 5, Killebrew set a career-high with six RBIs against the Oakland Athletics. That personal best lasted barely two months until September 7 when he hit a three-run home run and a grand slam for seven RBIs, all in the first two innings, again defeating the Athletics. Killebrew led the best offense in the league and rookie manager Billy Martin's Twins won the new American League West division. In the 1969 American League Championship Series, however, the Baltimore Orioles used the league's best pitching staff to shut down Minnesota and swept the series. Baltimore avoided Killebrew by walking him six times in the three games, as many as the rest of the Twins combined.

In 1969, the official logo of Major League Baseball was introduced. It features a silhouette of a broad-shouldered batter holding a bat up, poised to swing at the pitched ball coming towards him. Being a silhouette, it is not possible to determine if the batter is right or left-handed. Nonetheless, a baseball "urban legend" holds that the figure is Killebrew. However, MLB.com states the following: "The MLB logo: No one player has ever been identified as the model of the 1969 Major League Baseball batter logo".

Killebrew was one of only four Minnesota Twins from the 1965 pennant-winning club still with the team in 1970 but they again won their division. Killebrew hit another 41 home runs with 113 RBIs and was third in MVP voting behind his teammate Tony Oliva and the award winner, Baltimore's Boog Powell. As in 1969, they faced Powell and the Orioles in the 1970 American League Championship Series but again, they were swept. Killebrew and the Twins' offense fared better than in 1969 but they allowed 27 runs and never led a game after the 2nd inning of Game 1.

Decline

The 1970 season marked the last 40+ home run season for Killebrew and also his last postseason appearance. In his last four years with the Twins, they never finished higher than third in the American League West. In 1971, the 35-year-old Killebrew led the American League with 119 RBIs and hit a two-run home run off Ferguson Jenkins to provide the margin of victory in the All-Star Game. But, outside of the injury-shortened 1968, his home run percentage and slugging percentage were his lowest since he started playing regularly, and the All-Star Game was his last. Killebrew hit home run number 498 on June 22, 1971 but a sprained right toe made his run to the milestone number 500 a slow one. He hit number 499 more than a month after 498 and finally hit number 500 off a Mike Cuellar slow curveball on August 10, 1971 in a game at The Metmarker. He wasted no time in hitting number 501 which he hit off a Cuellar fastball later in the same game.

In 1972, his RBI total dropped to 74 and his slugging and batting average dropped even lower than in 1971. In 1973 and 1974, Killebrew combined for only 18 home runs and 86 RBIs while his playing time was reduced by injury. At age 38, he was given the option of staying with the Twins as a coach and batting instructor, managing the AAA Tacoma Twins, or being released. He chose to be released and, after a one-year stint with the Kansas City Royals in 1975, he chose to retire. Killebrew hit 573 home runs in his career (tenth best all time, most by an American League right-hander, and second in the AL only to Babe Ruth, as of 2008) and drove in 1,584 runs. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Famemarker in 1984, the first Minnesota Twin to be so honored.

Career hitting statistics

Games At bats Runs Hits 2B 3B HR RBI BA OBP SLG
Totals 2435 8147 1283 2086 290 24 573 1584 .256 .376 .509


Post-retirement activities

MOA entrance and Killebrew Drive


Killebrew was first eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1981. He received 239 votes, or 59.6% of the vote in his first year of eligibility. In 1982, Killebrew's second year of eligibility, he received 59.3% of the vote, taking a backseat to Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson, who made it in in their first year of eligibility. After receiving 71.9% of the vote in 1983, Killebrew said that not getting in this year was more difficult to accept than the previous two times, and asked "Why do the writers feel there only has to be a certain number inducted each time?" In 1984, Killebrew received 83.1% of the vote and made it in the Hall in his fourth year of eligibility, along with Luis Aparicio and Don Drysdale. In 1999, he was ranked 69th on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

The street along the south side of the Mall of Americamarker, the former site of the Metropolitan Stadiummarker ("The Met"), has been named "Killebrew Drive" in honor of Harmon Killebrew. In 1974, his uniform number 3 was the first to be retired by the Twins, and is only one of five Twins to have their numbers retired (in addition to the MLB-wide retirement of Jackie Robinson's number 42). Banners hanging above the Metrodome's outfield upper deck, resembling baseball cards, show the retired numbers: Killebrew (3), Rod Carew (29), Tony Oliva (6), Kent Hrbek (14) and Kirby Puckett (34). Killebrew easily holds the all-time home run record among players born in the state of Idahomarker with 573; Vance Law is second with 71. Reggie Jackson once said, "If Harmon Killebrew isn't the league's best player, I've never seen one. He's one of the greatest of all time."

Following his retirement, Killebrew was a television broadcaster for the Twins from 1976 to 1978, the Oakland Athletics from 1979 to 1982, the California Angels in 1983 and back with Minnesota from 1984 to 1988. While with Oakland, he also served as a major- and minor-league hitting instructor. In the late 1980s, Killebrew started running into financial problems. In July 1988, a year after he and his wife divorced, his house went into foreclosure and, in 1989, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that he had fallen $700,000 into debt. Soon after, Killebrew's health failed. In May 1990, he was rushed to the hospital with a collapsed lung and damaged esophagus. Together with a subsequent abscess and staph infection, Killebrew endured three surgeries and nearly died. He used a wheelchair for some time post-surgery. By December 1990, his health was improved and he was remarried.

He was involved in a Boise, Idahomarker insurance and securities business. Killebrew currently resides in Scottsdale, Arizonamarker, where he chairs the Harmon Killebrew Foundation. Killebrew founded the Danny Thompson Memorial Golf Tournament in 1977 with former Idahomarker congressman Ralph Harding. Played annually in late August in Sun Valley, Idahomarker, it has donated more than $8.6 million to leukemia and cancer research. Thompson was a Twins teammate who continued his major league career while suffering from leukemia; he died in December 1976 at the age of 29.

Personal life

Killebrew had five children with his wife Elaine before they divorced after 34 years in the 1980s. In the early 1990s, he married Nita. Their family consists of 9 children, 23 grand children and 2 great grandchildren. They currently live in Scottsdale, Arizonamarker where they do charitable work through Harmon's foundation.

Tape measure home runs

The red chair overlooking the flume ride at the MOA amusement park
Killebrew's batting strength was demonstrated by several "tape measure" home runs that he hit in the prime of his career.

On August 3, 1962, he was the first batter ever to hit a baseball over the left field roof at Tiger Stadiummarker, a seldom-reached target as contrasted with the old ballpark's cozy right field area. Only three others would accomplish this feat during the next 37 seasons before the stadium was closed.

On May 24, 1964, Harmon hit the longest measured homer at Baltimore Memorial Stadiummarker, to deep left center. The ball landed in the far reaches of the bleachers. The only player to hit one completely out of the Orioles' stadium was Frank Robinson in 1966, which was reported as about 451, or about less than Killebrew's hit.

On June 3, 1967, Killebrew hit a home run, the longest measured home run ever hit at the Twins' Metropolitan Stadiummarker and the longest in Twins history. That event is commemorated at the Mall of Americamarker, which includes a plaque marking home plate, and one red-painted seat from the Met which was placed at the location and elevation of the landing spot of the home run.

See also



Notes

  1. Porter, p. 807.
  2. Thielman, p. 132.
  3. Thielman, p. 131.
  4. Thielman, p. 134.
  5. Porter, pp. 807-808.
  6. Porter, p. 808.
  7. Thielman, p. 133.
  8. Thielman, p. 136.
  9. Thielman, p. 137.
  10. Allen, p. 76.
  11. Thielman, p. 143.
  12. Thielman, p. 16.
  13. Thielman, p. 146.
  14. Thielman, p. 145.
  15. Thielman, pp. 128-130.
  16. Allen, p. 79.
  17. Thielman, p. 102.
  18. Thielman, pp. 169-170.
  19. Rushin, pp. 195-196.
  20. Armour, p. 192.
  21. Allen, p. 80.
  22. Armour, p. 193.
  23. Allen, p. 81.
  24. Markoe, p. 515.
  25. Kalb, p. 350.
  26. Kalb, p. 351.
  27. Pahigian, p. 253.
  28. Leboutillier, p. 28.


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