erik lundegaard

Wednesday May 18, 2011

Lancelot Links: Harmon Killebrew Edition

There's a lot of great writing out there on Harmon Killebrew, the Twins slugger who died yesterday, at the age of 74, of esophageal cancer. Here are a few favorites:

  • The New York Times has a well-written obituary by Richard Goldstein, with a photo that feels like the quintessential Killebrew swing: balanced, extended, all out. They get the story right--born in a farming community in Payette, Idaho, recommended to the Washington Senators by a U.S. Senator, the quantity and quality of the homeruns, the quality of the man--but they also dig up quotes from Fay Vincent's oral history, “We Would Have Played for Nothing.” Then there's this gem:

He made sure that his autographs for young fans were legible.

“I had a doctor’s signature,” the former Twins outfielder Torii Hunter told The Star Tribune in recalling the time Killebrew looked at his autograph several years ago. “I had a ‘T’ and an ‘I’ and a dot-dot. He said, ‘What the hell is this?’ He said, ‘If you play the game this long, make sure people know who you are.’ ”

The bat Harmon Killebrew used to hit his 573rd career homerun

The bat Harmon used to hit homer #573. (As a Royal, against the Twins.)

Killebrew could not have been more of a gentleman. He laughed when I told him I thought he was the trainer. He smiled when I thanked him for being so kind to me during that brief 1973 encounter in the underbelly of Fenway Park. “That makes me feel good,” Killebrew said. “I'd hate to think I wasn't nice and respectful to someone.”

"Killebrew for Governor" bumper sticker - now housed at Target Field

A '60s bumper sticker ... now under glass at Target Field.

  • Here's that 1963 Sports Illustrated cover story on Killebrew that everyone's been quoting lately—particularly the line about what kind of hobbies he has: “'Just washing the dishes, I guess,' says Harmon, trying to help.” Irony: SI talks up how ignored Killebrew is ... even as their cover story on him doesn't really put him on the cover. The cover is bat and ball. You gotta open the fold-out to see the man himself.
  • You can also go to the SI vault and read old articles on the man. I'd always wondered whether, on the heels of Damn Yankees, and with the rise of Killebrew the homerun hitter, if someone made the inevitable Joe Hardy allusion. They did. Then we get this great quote:

“People have been comparing me to Joe Hardy, the hero of the musical Damn Yankees,” Killebrew told the group, referring to the George Abbott-Douglass Wallop hit show of a few years back. “You might be interested to hear what Bob Addie told me the other night after I had struck out against the Yankees to end the game. 'You may look like Joe Hardy to some,' Addie told me, 'but today you were more like Andy Hardy.' ”

  • A nice photo gallery from CBS News. But they fail to mention, in photo 11, that those three players—Robinson, Jackson, Killebrew—weren't just 500-homerun guys. They all hit homeruns in that 1971 All-Star Game.
  • The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, in their slideshow, gets it right. But who knows what the story is behind the photo of Killebrew and Hank Greenberg. Plus... I mean, The New York Times has been hawking its photos of Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, et al., for years now, and I always thought the Star-Tribune should do the same, from their extensive archive, with photos of Killebrew, Oliva, Carew, Tovar, etc. So far nothing. What—don't you guys need the money?
  • Also from the Strib: the fans who gathered at Target Field yesterday. I'm with Kevin Lindquist: “I've never been so sad about [the death of] someone I didn't know.”
  • I'd never heard this song, “Harmon Killebrew,” by Jeff Arundel, until today. Jeff: I, too, wrote a letter to Harmon Killebrew about the time you did. That's how I got that autographed photo. That's what came back. BTW: Where did you get the Bob Casey recording? So cool.
  • Stats & Info, on, give us of some of Killebrew's stats. They remind us that no one hit more homeruns in the deadball 1960s. Not Aaron, not Mays, not anyone.
  • Rob Neyer, over at Baseball Nation, reminds us of the length of those homeruns. It makes me think again that if Killebrew played in a bigger market, a New York or Boston, oh, the stories we'd all know. Oh, the stories we woud've heard on Ken Burns' Baseball (instead of nada):

In 1962, Killebrew became the first player to hit a ball over the left-fieldroof at Tiger Stadium; only three others would accomplish the feat before Tiger Stadium closed 37 years later.

In 1964, Killebrew hit the longest-ever measured home run at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium.

In 1967, Killebrew hit the longest-ever measured home run at Minnesota's Metropolitan Stadium (today the landing spot, 520 feet from home plate, is commemorated by a stadium seat inside the Mall of America).

Harmon Killebrew pennant

I had a Twins/Killebrew pennant just like this one in my room when I was a kid. This one is under glass at Target Field.

I was just learning the basic language of baseball statistics in 1975, and so took in Harmon Killebrew’s long litany of 40-homer, 100-plus RBI years with the pure and enthusiastic fascination of the true beginner. I have an attraction to anonymous players, to failure and ignominy, to the fallen and the wilkerized, but I am as drawn to the players whose feats stand in bold opposition to the general entropy of the universe as any other baseball fan. I am sure that I found this card soothing. There is greatness in the world. There are things that won’t be forgotten.

  • Jim Caple, always a pleasure to read, gives us another nice remembrance.
  • Once again, with everyone writing about the same baseball subject, Joe Posnanski again manages to write about the best piece out there. He gets to the heart of the baseball story: those first five fruitless years with the Senators as a bonus baby; how most were resigned to the idea that he would go nowhere; and how, during a 17-game stretch in May 1959, he changed their minds. Posnanski brings up the fact, ignored at the time, that for a six-year stretch, from 1966 to 1971, despite his low batting average, Killebrew led the American League in On-Base Percentage with a .401 mark. Posnanski ends with the great battles between Killebrew and ... George Brunet? Yep! Oh, and there's this choice take on the Idaho Senator who discovered him:

Harmon Killebrew had been recommended to the Washington Senators by an actual senator, Idaho Republican Herman Welker, who would mainly be known to history for two unrelated things:

1. Being so closely allied with the reckless demagogue Joe McCarthy that he became known as “Little Joe from Idaho.”

2. Recommending Harmon Killebrew.

Rod Carew:
Harmon Killebrew was a gem. I can never thank him enough for all I learned from him. He was a consummate professional who treated everyone from the brashest of rookies to the groundskeepers to the ushers in the stadium with the utmost of respect. I would not be the person I am today if it weren't for Harmon Killebrew. He was a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word.

Jane Forbes Clark, chairwoman, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Since joining the Hall of Fame family in 1984, Harmon was a beacon of light among his fellow Hall of Famers, always smiling, always enjoying every moment that life delivered at his doorstep.

Tommy John
He never showed you up, no flaps down or anything, just that little number 3 — like Babe Ruth — trotting like he hit 'em before and he would hit 'em again.

Bert Blyleven
He was a bigger Hall of Famer off the field.

Harmon Killebrew during Camera Day at Met Stadium, 1970

Harmon Killebrew during Camera Day at Met Stadium, circa 1969. Note the band-aid on his forearm and the airplane in the background. This photo has been on my wall in one room or another, in one city or another, for the last 20 years.

Posted at 07:08 AM on Wednesday May 18, 2011 in category Lancelot Links  
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