Listen: Killebrew obit (Sepic)-9158

MPR’s Matt Sepic presents a rememberence report on Twins Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, who passed away May 17, 2011. Sepic highlights some of the things that made Killebrew a special ball player.


2011 NBNA Eric Sevareid Award, award of merit in Soft Feature - Large Market Radio category

2011 Minnesota AP Award, first place in Sports Reporting - Radio Division, Class Three category


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MATT SEPIC: It was the summer of 1954 in tiny Payette, Idaho where it was a 17-year-old in a semi-pro league was hitting baseballs out of the park. Ossie Bluege, a scout for the old Washington Senators, came to check it out. But it was pouring rain. That day, young Harmon Killebrew thought he'd forget baseball and take a college football scholarship instead. But 30 years later, and without a hint of boasting in his voice, Killebrew recalled the Hollywood moment when his future changed.

HARMON KILLEBREW: And the skies cleared. And that night, Mr. Bluege stayed for the ball game. And I'd been going to that ballpark since I was a young boy and never had seen anyone hit a ball over the left field fence. It was so far. And that night, I hit one over the left field fence.

MATT SEPIC: That ball flew 435 feet, and Killebrew signed with the Senators. But he struggled at first, warming the bench for two seasons and spending a few more in the Minors. The team struggled too. But Killebrew hit his stride and soon joined baseball's power-hitting elite. In 1960, he squared off against Rocky Colavito on a short live TV show called Home Run Derby.

SPEAKER: High fly ball going way back deep into left center field. This could go. It's going, going, gone over the left field wall. Harmon Killebrew out in front 1 to 0 here in the last half of the first.

MATT SEPIC: The next year, the Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins. But they'd have to start winning to make it in a new place. Harmon Killebrew was key.

DOUG GROW: He was almost the perfect athlete, as it turned out, for the upper Midwest.

MATT SEPIC: That's former Star Tribune sportswriter Doug Grow. He says Killebrew never once yelled at an umpire or argued with a manager.

DOUG GROW: He didn't pound his chest, when he did something well. He didn't pout. He didn't grumble in the clubhouse. And yet, he could hit these incredible home runs.

MATT SEPIC: And he kept pounding him out. Though he had a middling batting average in 1962, he whacked 48 home runs that season. By '65, Killebrew helped the Twins win the American League Pennant. A decade later, bad knees and a contract dispute led Killebrew to the Kansas City Royals for his final season.

Still, he retired with 573 homers, among the all-time greats. But Killebrew was not a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Many sportswriters considered him one-dimensional, only a power hitter. But true to form, Killebrew kept a stiff upper lip in 1983 when he was passed over for a third time.

HARMON KILLEBREW: This was, to me, the toughest one because I really was more hopeful maybe this year than last. And maybe, that's the reason that it was a little bit more difficult.

MATT SEPIC: But he did make it to Cooperstown the next year. Writer Doug Grow says the slugger's achievements glow brighter than ever today, as the steroid scandal continues to reverberate.

DOUG GROW: Now everybody looks at those numbers. And they raise an eyebrow and say, they're really not so good. And they look at Killebrew's numbers and say, he did that eating cheeseburgers and drinking milkshakes. He looks pretty good by comparison.

MATT SEPIC: Besides his achievements on the field, Twins fans are also remembering Harmon Killebrew for his sportsmanship and humility. Qualities that can't be measured in the record books. Matt Sepic, Minnesota Public Radio News.


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