Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Killer

Before the late 1980s and the inflation of offensive numbers, I used to be able to easily reel off the names of the top ten home run hitters of all time:  Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Willie McCovey, Ted Williams and Ernie Banks.  All ten were brilliant, legendary players.  No question that any of them were automatic Hall of Famers. (Mike Schmidt and Reggie Jackson bumped Williams and Banks off the top 10 by the time they retired and are also worthy of being in this pantheon.)  I couldn't name the current top 10, so I had to look it up:  Bonds, Aaron, Ruth, Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Jim Thome, Frank Robinson and Mark McGwire.  Still pretty impressive, if not as majestic a group of ballplayers.  But what struck me was that Jim Thome, a one-dimensional player who has been a designated hitter almost exclusively for the last five years, bumped Harmon Killebrew from the top 10 to number 11.  It goes to show you that statistics aren't everything.

Harmon Killebrew personified the feared power hitter of the 1960s.  He didn't just hit home runs, he crushed them.  "The Killer" was an 11-time All Star and the 1969 American League MVP, in a 22-year career that spanned more than one baseball era (1954-1975).  In a time when 40 homers signified a sensational season, he did it eight times.  Killebrew played virtually his entire career with one team, the original Washington Senators, who moved to Minnesota and became the Twins in 1961, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984.

By all accounts, Killebrew, despite being an imposing player who struck terror into the hearts of pitchers, was a kind, quiet and humble man off the field.  On Friday, the 74-year old Killebrew announced that he was no longer going to fight his battle with esophageal cancer and would enter hospice care.  With his characteristic
grace, he stated he had "exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease" and is “very comfortable taking this next step and experiencing the compassionate care that hospice provides.” 

[Related posts:  Living Legends; Living Legend; Duke of Flatbush]


dougiem said...

that's an articulate and moving tribute and farewell, brother love. Long live Harmon Killebrew.

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