The youngest of five children, Harmon Killebrew was an honor student
who batted .500 or better during each of his four high school baseball seasons.
Killebrew rejected a University of Oregon football scholarship - in part to
support his widowed mother - and signed with the Washington Senators at age 17
in 1954. He immediately pulled on a major-league uniform.
Reports surfaced that he was "a speedster," when he was being
scouted in high school, although he had already suffered leg injuries and a
surgery because of high school football. The leg injuries haunted him the rest
of his career.
In his first big-league start, as a second baseman in August of 1954,
Killebrew singled and doubled to center field and singled to left, all against
Alex Kellner, a good-hitting pitcher who in 1949 became Philadelphia's first
20-game winner since Hall of Famer Lefty Grove in 1933.
That performance drove in two runs during a 10-3 win in which the Senators
produced a season-high 18 hits.
Known as a quiet, polite man who was never ejected from a game, he was no
pushover on the field. In his early seasons he was reported to have
"occassionally argued with umpires," and one day when veteran White
Sox second baseman Nellie Fox slid into Killebrew at third base, he
verbally ripped into Fox.
But he was almost sheepish after hitting home runs. A coach noted a small
grin on Killebrew's face after a home run in Chicago during the '59 season, and
commented, "that's showing emotion for him."
The SALK shots
Killebrew was not overjoyed when the Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961. He
was concerned how the cold and wind in Minnesota would affect the team's
hitting. The Senators did not win much, but in 1959, the SALK shots - Roy
Sievers, Bob Allison, Jim
Lemon Killebrew - started a long stretch during which owner Calvin
Griffith's teams were known for power.
But Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota could not hold Killebrew,
and he credited the symmetrical ballpark with helping him out of slumps.
With the fences in left and right equidistance from home plate, Killebrew --
a pull-hitter who slumped when he tried to pull the ball to left field too much
-- claimed he could hit the ball where it was pitched during slumps, go to
right field and get his timing back without sacrificing power.
He was the American League's premier power source in the early 1960s. His
40th home run during his first season in a Minnesota Twins' uniform came in
Kansas City and was reported at 480-feet -- the longest ever hit in the A's
Allison, Killebrew, Tony Oliva and
Jim Kaat were four of the more popular Minnesota Twins during the 1960s.
They were originally signed for less than $45,000; Killebrew got $30,000 of
Killebrew put the period on a remarkable career with his 1984 induction into
the National Baseball Hall of Fame, finishing with 573 career home runs. But he
wasn't immune from considering the road not taken.
As a high school senior, he was recruited by the Oregon football program to
replace George Shaw at quarterback. Four years later, Oregon won the Rose Bowl.
In 2004, he reflected on that.
I always wondered, if I had been there, would they have still gotten
to the Rose Bowl?