Friday, May 13, 2011

Recalling 'Killer' Killebrew

The sad news that Harmon Killebrew is losing his battle to cancer brought back memories of my days as a youngster at Milwaukee County Stadium. Although I loved going to any ballgame, there were always certain players that I really looked forward to seeing.

Nolan Ryan, Rod Carew, Al Kaline were among this group of American Leaguers. And at the top of the list was Killebrew, who had the apt nickname "Killer." Something about the Twins slugger sparked the imagination.

He seemed bigger than life. In reality he was 6 feet tall and weighed 195 pounds. Not small, but no Frank Howard, either. Bu the power he displayed was enough to make him seem like Paul Bunyan.

It's always nice to hear that a player you admire is a nice guy off the field, too. In "Killer's" case, apparently the nickname was only apropos on the field. Off the field writers and others knew him as a "classy person."

It seems to me that Killebrew rarely gets mentioned these days when announcers or fans tick off the best home run hitters of all time. Even after the steroid era's inflated numbers, he still ranks 11th with 573. When he retired he was fifth.

Maybe it was his unassuming personality. He wasn't a brash self-promoter like Reggie Jackson or involved in baseball as a manager or front-office figure like Frank Robinson. Once in a while Killebrew would pop up on TV. He came across as a decent man with a sense of humor.

Besides the Top Ten list in the video above that he helped deliver on "Late Night With David Letterman," Killebrew was the subject of another episode of the show. He was reluctant to take part, but did. I do recall Letterman retiring Killebrew's jersey and raising it to the rafters of his NBC studio.

"Killer" accomplished a lot as a player, but he's the only to have his jersey retired by Letterman. And that feat seems unlikely to be matched.

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