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  • Writer's pictureMarc Johnson


One of the Greats Passes

Just when it seems that spring may final have come, it turns out to be a sad, sad day. The Great Killebrew is gone.

I’ve always been a Minnesota Twins fan. I grew up listening to Twins games on WCCO radio in the Midwest. Brought to you, of course, from“the land of sky blue waters” by Hamms…the beer refreshing.”

Harmon was a boyhood idol. My first real baseball cap was a dark blue Twins model. My first major league game was bat day at old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. When I moved to Idaho long years ago, I actually had my first opportunity to talk with Harmon and he turned out to be just what you got on the field and at the plate: a pro and a nice guy, and those words don’t always fit in the same sentence when the subject is a professional athlete.

Killebrew was the kind of guy who would gladly stand in an airport and patiently answer questions about his career, who he hated to face and how he was doing. He never seemed hurried, just a really nice Hall of Famer from Payette with a big smile and big biceps.

Legend has it that Idaho Sen. Herman Welker, also from Payette, tipped the Washington Senators to the fact that a strong kid in Idaho was worth a look. Welker wasn’t a great or even a very good senator, but he was right about Harmon.

Welker pestered Clark Griffith, the Senators’ owner, until Griffith sent his scouting director to Payette, a little farm town hard along the Oregon border in southwestern Idaho. Harmon told the guy he was going to play football and baseball for the Oregon Ducks, but when the Senators’ scouting director (that could refer to Welker or the team) saw the 17-year old hit one 435 feet out of the park and into a “beet field, not a potato” field, Killebrew turned pro.

In the many, many remembrances that are sure to come in the days following his untimely death at 74 from cancer, most will recall that he hit is 573 home runs when a player did it legitimately. By my count, at least four guys who have passed Harmon on the all-time home run list did it with the aid of something other than a diet of Idaho potatoes.

Killebrew was old school, a gentleman, a pro, a nice guy. Jorge Posada, who knows better, melted down the other night and took himself out of the Yankee line-up rather than bat in the nine hole. Can’t imagine Harmon ever, ever pulling such a stunt. Too much class.

One manager said Harmon could hit a ball out of any park “including Yellowstone.” And no less an authority than the great Al Kaline said of Killebrew, “he’s one of the great hitters of all time.” He was…and a really, really nice guy, too.

Not surprisingly, Killebrew handled the end of his life with the same grace and dignity with which he played the great game. He simply announced a few days ago that he was ending his cancer treatment to enter hospice care and, like one of his mammoth blasts at old Tiger Stadium or Fenway, he soared away a class act to the end.

This old Twins fan is going to remember him as long as I can read a box score. Harmon Killebrew was one of the all-time greats.

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