Thinking about Harmon

Based on the courageous comments from Harmon Killebrew regarding the end of his fight with esophageal cancer, we can assume that it is just a matter of weeks, or perhaps even days, before we lose him entirely. This is sad news for any baseball fan, but especially for those who have had the pleasure of meeting a most gracious man.

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During my years at the Hall of Fame, I must have talked to Harmon three or four times. Two words describe him succinctly and accurately: consummate gentleman. Always soft-spoken and considerate with those who approached him in Cooperstown, Killebrew would rarely say anything remotely controversial and never make a derogatory remark about anyone. I suppose that made him a boring interview, but it spoke volumes about the man’s character. He just didn’t have it in him to be mean, or critical, in any way.

Not surprisingly, Harmon was never thrown out of a game during his career. He never threw his helmet in anger. If he had a temper, it was never evident, either on the ballfield or in the clubhouse. He was this kind of guy: If someone had tried to attack him with a knife, Harmon would have thanked him for being kind enough to lend him a kitchen utensil.

My favorite card of Killebrew is his 1973 Topps issue, shown here. Unlike most card photos that show hitters at the plate, this card give us a different perspective because we see the catcher in full view. From this angle, the Cleveland Indians’ catcher (I believe it’s backup receiver Jerry Moses) appears to be so close to Killebrew that he’d be charged with catcher’s interference if “Killer” took a swing at the next pitch.

It’s a great shot of Killebrew, too. He looks so balanced, so firmly entrenched in the batter’s box with those tree-trunk legs, that it would take a forklift to move him off the plate. He looks much bigger, and far more powerful, than his listed dimensions of 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds would indicate.

When I first learned about Killebrew as a young fan in the early 1970s, I was captivated by his name. Harmon Killebrew. That just seemed like a great name, especially for a slugger. Given his power and his build, I had always assumed that Killebrew was a tough, nasty ogre of a guy. With that name, and given the way that he crushed fastballs, I just figured that he had to be.

I could not have been more wrong. Just ask any Hall of Fame employee who ever encountered him, ever had a chance to talk to him. Like me, they’ll all miss seeing him at Induction Weekend.

I don’t know how much longer Harmon Killebrew has. What I do know is this: for 74 years, he’s made people feel better, just by being around him.


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Bruce Markusen is the manager of Digital and Outreach Learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He has authored seven baseball books, including biographies of Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Ted Williams, and A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, which was awarded SABR's Seymour Medal.

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9 Comments on "Thinking about Harmon"

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Albie Jarvis
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Albie Jarvis
I have to admit. Growing up, I was not a big Harmon Killebrew fan. The Impossible Dream year of 1967 is still a pivotal year in my life. I was a kid – and a Red Sox fan. But that year turned me from just a fan into a diehard fan. The kind that is a foundation of Red Sox Nation. Now in ’67, the Red Sox and Twins were rivals (you can add in the Tigers too). I will always remember the slugger Harmon Killebrew battling Carl Yastrzemski in AL HR race. Killebrew and Yaz ended up tying for… Read more »
GARY BRYANT
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GARY BRYANT

Just see him on Homerun Derby the way he conducts himself!  The perfect gentleman always heaping praise on his opponents, him and the late Jackie Jensen ro me were very similar.  I as a kid was always a fan of his.  When he came to bat I knew he was special and he still is.  I hope we do not lose him!  I send him Best Wishes and my deep concern for him and his health!

Jim C
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Jim C

I grew up in Wash. DC in the 50’s and he was one of my first heroes as a ballplayer. I had the opportunity to meet him a few times long after he retired and he was, as you say, a consummate gentleman. He could not have been nicer, or more appreciative of the attention of his fans. I have a ball with Harmon’s and Frank Howard’s autographs on it. It is one of my proudest possessions.

Mike
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Mike
As a kid growing up in Bloomington, just a few blocks from the Met, my family used to sit out on the back porch together and listen to Halsey Hall and Herb Carneal tell us what was going on inside the ballpark But when the Killer hit one out, the only thing you could hear was the roar of the crowd. Sometimes it seemed louder than the sonic boom of the jets flying overhead to and from the airport down the road. Of course Harmon was more than just a homerun hitter. He was a quiet leader who made people… Read more »
Robbe C. Wilson, OK
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Robbe C. Wilson, OK

I grew up in Northern California—I’m a Cubs Fan, but I remember Harmon Killebrew and I am sorry he is so ill.  We just don’t have enough men like him in baseball-or any other sport-now days! I will pray for him. (I’m 65 yrs old, so I grew up with names like Harmon Killibrew.) May he have comfort during this time.

David
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David
I hope you’ll indulge me sharing a memory of Harmon. My wife and I attended a (free) speaking engagement he gave in a local Catholic church last year in St. Peter, MN, with about 300 people in the audience.  He was slated to talk for an hour, so, of course, he went about 15 minutes over.  Then, he signed autographs for the next hour and a half.  This is not because people were bringing too much stuff (there was a limit of one item per person), but because he insisted on talking to everyone and asking about their personal lives. … Read more »
Bruce Markusen
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Bruce Markusen

Thanks to all of you for some very thoughtful posts on Harmon Killebrew.

David
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David

RIP to Harmon… you will be missed.

Steve Kay
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Steve Kay

An ICONIC figure from the childhoods of all men my age who grew up in the sixties.  THE KILLER AND YAZ, THE MICK, GIBSON, DRYSDALE…  man, those were the days.  We will miss you, Harmon… THE NATION TURNS IT’S LONELY EYES TO YOU, AS WELL.
RIP.  – a die hard red sox fan.

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