UPDATE: Twins’ slugger Killebrew dies at 74; baseball community reacts

Harmon Killebrew, the Minnesota Twins slugger known for his tape-measure home runs, has died at his
PHOTOGRAPHER:

MINNEAPOLIS — Harmon Killebrew, the affable, big-swinging Hall of Famer whose tape-measure home runs made him the cornerstone of the Minnesota Twins, died today at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., after battling esophageal cancer. He was 74.

The Twins said Killebrew passed away peacefully with his wife, Nita, and their family at his side. He announced his diagnosis just six months ago and last week Killebrew said doctors had deemed the “awful disease” incurable.

Killebrew is 11th on baseball’s all-time home run list after a 22-year career. His eight seasons with 40 or more homers still is tied for second in league history to Babe Ruth, and his upper-cut swing formed the silhouette that inspired Major League Baseball’s official logo.

The Minnesota House observed a moment of silence Tuesday morning at the state capitol in honor of Killebrew. Rep. Bob Barrett of Shafer recalled how his father once did contracting work at Killebrew’s home and “couldn’t remember having met a nicer man.”

Said Barrett: “He was a great player, but he was an even greater man.”

At Target Field, members of the Twins’ ground crew slowly lifted home plate and slipped under it a plastic-encased, black-and-white photo of Killebrew winding up for a swing. The picture, believed to be from the 1960s, will stay beneath the plate the rest of the season.

The stadium video board showed a photo of Killebrew, with 1936-2011 superimposed.

Killebrew broke in with the Washington Senators in 1954 as an 18-year-old. He spent most of his first five seasons in the minors, then hit 42 homers in his first full season in 1959. The Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961, and Killebrew hit 190 homers in his first four seasons there, including 49 in 1964.

The 11-time All-Star was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1969 after hitting 49 home runs with 140 RBIs and 145 walks, all team records that stand to this day.

“I found out early in life that I could hit a baseball farther than most players and that’s what I tried to do,” Killebrew said.

Behind their soft-spoken slugger nicknamed “The Killer,” the Twins reached the World Series for the first time in 1965 and back-to-back AL Championship Series in 1969 and 1970.

Former Twins owner Calvin Griffith used to call Killebrew the backbone of the franchise. “He kept us in business,” Griffith said.

Killebrew was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984, the first Twin to be enshrined. Killebrew’s No. 3 jersey was retired in 1975. Killebrew’s easygoing demeanor contrasted starkly with his nickname and standing as one of baseball’s most feared hitters.

“I didn’t have evil intentions,” Killebrew said on his website. “But I guess I did have power.”

Reaction to his death:

“When I learned the news about Harmon today, I felt like I lost a family member. He has treated me like one of his own. It’s hard to put into words what Harmon has meant to me. He first welcomed me into the Twins family as an 18-year-old kid and has continued to influence my life in many ways. He is someone I will never forget and will always treasure the time we spent together. Harmon will be missed but never forgotten.” — Twins catcher Joe Mauer.

“When I was a kid, I mean, you loved the name and the player and the excitement he brought when he went to the plate, and how far he could hit the ball. As I got into professional ball, and as I got a chance to meet him — I didn’t know him well but in talking to other people — what a nice man he was. He was a real classy man who loved baseball and got back involved in it with the Twins. They loved having Harmon there. It’s a moving story about him going into hospice, kind of saying it’s my time. He accepted his fate and he did it with such class.” — San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy.

“I am truly saddened by the loss of Harmon Killebrew, one of the great human beings I have ever known. All of Baseball has lost a true gentleman who represented the Minnesota Twins with class and grace for decades. Harmon was as tough and feared a competitor on the field as the game has ever seen, while off the field he touched everyone he encountered with his sensitive and humble nature. …He led his life with modesty and dignity and I will miss him forever.” — Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.

“This is a sad day for all of baseball and even harder for those of us who were fortunate enough to be a friend of Harmon’s. 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.” — former Twins star Rod Carew.

“No individual has ever meant more to the Minnesota Twins organization and millions of fans across Twins Territory than Harmon Killebrew. Harmon will long be remembered as one of the most prolific home run hitters in the history of the game and the leader of a group of players who helped lay the foundation for the long-term success of the Twins franchise and Major League Baseball in the Upper Midwest. However, more importantly Harmon’s legacy will be the class, dignity and humility he demonstrated each and every day as a Hall of Fame-quality husband, father, friend, teammate and man. The Twins extend heartfelt sympathies and prayers to the Killebrew family at this difficult time.” — Dave St. Peter, Twins president.

“Harmon Killebrew personified Hall of Fame excellence in every aspect of his dynamic life. He will forever be remembered for his 573 career home runs and as the 1969 American League Most Valuable Player, and as one of the greatest hitters of his era. 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. We have so many fond memories of this wonderful baseball hero, and we will miss him enormously.” — Jane Forbes Clark, chairman, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

“Harmon was a Hall of Famer on and off the field. He was baseball’s version of Paul Bunyan, with his prodigious home run power, leading by example in the clubhouse and on the field. Off the field, he emanated class, dignity, and warmth, and he was a great humanitarian. He was so down-to-earth, you would never realize he was a baseball legend. It’s ironic that his nickname was “Killer,” as he was one of the nicest, most generous individuals to ever walk the earth.” — Jeff Idelson, president, Hall of Fame.

“He was a great player, but he was an even greater man.” — Minnesota State Rep. Bob Barrett, R-Shafer, recalling how his father once did contracting work at Killebrew’s home and “couldn’t remember having met a nicer man.”

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