My memento of Killebrew and the '72 Twins

May 18, 2011 

I’ve never been much for autographs, which is good considering it is unethical for sportswriters to ask athletes for such things.

But there's one autographed baseball that's stayed with me for most of life. And it became more cherished yesterday with the passing of Harmon Killebrew.

“He was also, in a way, one of us, a Northwesterner from little Payette, Idaho, probably the greatest athlete to ever come out of the Gem State,” wrote Larry Stone, national baseball writer for The Seattle Times.

And I think of Killebrew every time I drive through his hometown on my way to the Snake River Valley for wine touring.

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UPDATE: Here is the link to a May 17 audio clip of Hermiston native Bucky Jacobsen, a baseball analyst for Seattle's KJR 950 AM. As a first-year player in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, Jacobsen spent a day with Killebrew as they visited hospice patients in Ogden, Utah.

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In the summer of ‘72, my family left Spokane and drove halfway across the country to visit Uncle Del in Bloomington, Minn. It turns out he knew one of the Twins and got me a ball autographed by the team. A trio of would-be Hall of Famers had signed it -- Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew and, of course, “Harmon Killebrew,” whose penmanship appears right on top of “MINNESOTA TWINS.”

On July 13, we went to the drafty and spacious Metropolitan Stadium, and what I most remember from that game was Boston shortstop Juan Beniquez committing three errors.

Why? As my luck would have it, Killebrew did not play. (He did homer the following game, and Beniquez contributed three more errors). Still, there were three future Hall of Famers on the field -- Carew, Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski.

-- For a nifty feature that I was unaware of, go to this link on the site BackToBaseball.com. It will show you the lineups, the box score and replay it in Strat-O-Maticesque fashion if you click "View Game."

On days when I'm feeling somewhat bitter, such as this one, I revisit the notion of asterisks in Cooperstown and on baseball's all-time home run list. When Killebrew retired, he was No. 5 overall with 573 and No. 1 among American League right-handed batters.

“That’s when home runs were home runs,” Dan Patrick pointed out Tuesday.

And in 1975, the only American Leaguer with more career homers was Babe Ruth.

Killebrew now ranks No. 11, passed up by several who played in cozy ballparks and with PEDs in their blood systems.

Still, only Ruth has more 40+ home run seasons than Killebrew, arguably the most feared slugger of the 1960s.

And while the man who designed the MLB logo in 1968 disputes the claim, that silhouette appears to be that of Killebrew. It debuted on uniforms for the 1969 season, which is when Killebrew produced his MVP season. Utterly remarkable.

Also, take a look at his career on-base percentage. He walked nearly as often as he struck out.

The death of “Hammerin’ Harmon” creates another sorrowful connection for me. He died of esophageal cancer, which claimed my beloved stepfather in 1997.

To honor Killebrew, the Twins reportedly will don the cream-colored throwback uniforms of the 1961 season for the rest of their home games this season.

And I have moved that autographed ball into a more prominent spot in my den.

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