The night belonged to Killebrew
The Minnesota Twins honored Harmon Killebrew at the Metrodome in
Minneapolis, Minn., on August 19, 1984. He had been inducted into the Baseball
Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. days earlier. Here's Jim's account.
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Harmon Killebrew generally enjoys a leisurely pre-game
routine when the Minnesota Twins play at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome: a
little conversation during a visit to the Twins' executive offices, a saunter
down the dugout ramp to conduct an interview for the subscription television
station that employs him.
Harmon Killebrew, Camera Day at Met Stadium, Sept. 1969.
Tuesday night was different. Killebrew was the Most Valuable Player again.
It could have been 1969.
Nearly every media outlet in the state wanted a piece of Killebrew, the
National Baseball Hall of Fame's newest inductee - and the Twins' first.
Although Killebrew might have seemed fearsome to major league pitchers two
decades ago, Tuesday he was more remindful of Ed Asner as Lou Grant during one
of the character's more lovable moments. In a sharp blue blazer, the burly
frame strode from camera to notebook to microphone, his gray, fluffy sideburns
lending just the right touch of Hall of Fame distinction to his fringe of hair.
Later, 44,704 fans appeared to honor him in a ballpark in which he never
played. If it could, Bloomington's Metropolitan Stadium was crying.
It was there that Killebrew hit the biggest share of his 573 home runs, the
most ever for a righthanded American League player.
Indelible link with Twins
It was also there that Killebrew attained the same relationship with the Twins
that Babe Ruth enjoys with the Yankees and Willie Mays with the Giants. Even
nine years after his retirement, people recall the Minnesota Twins and Harmon
Killebrew in the same memory.
They probably always will.
What many might not know is if one could reach the Hall of Fame on
personality alone, Killebrew would not have had to wait until his fourth year
of eligibility for last week's induction. Ask around the press box and there's
not a bad thought about him.
Tuesday night was the culmination of a long-awaited, very warming time in
the 48-year-old's life. Perhaps he remains so approachable and genuine because
memories of his struggling self are as vivid to him as the triumphant times.
Killebrew calls the Twins'
best season - 1965, when the team won the American pennant - among his most
frustrating. After 49 home runs and 111 runs batted in during the '64 season,
and a hot start in '65, Killebrew suffered a dislocated elbow.
"I dislocated my left elbow completely, that was at the middle of the
season," he recalls as a Twins' official pushes the night's itinerary at
him. Killebrew pauses to joke with him, then continues.
"It was frustrating because I wanted to be part of the club winning,
and it looked like we were going to win the pennant and maybe I wasn't going to
get a chance to play in the World Series. Fortunately for me, I played the last
10 games of the season at third, and the World Series at third."
Still drove in 75 runs
He finished the season with 25 home runs and 75 RBI, missing nearly 50 games.
The Twins lost the World Series in seven games, and maybe it would not have
been so had Killebrew been rebounding from injury as the Series started. He
batted .286 with a home run and two RBI in the Series, which was not reflective
of his production at that time in his career.
Killebrew vividly recalls even less fortunate aspects of his career,
contending that no player forgets the times when Chattanooga beckons, as it did
in 1957 and 1958, before Killebrew climbed to the big leagues and stayed.
"I think all players remember that," he says. "There are very
few players that haven't had ups and downs in their careers. In fact, there's
usually more downs than ups. That's just part of it."
But few players accept an invitation to potential failure, as Killebrew did.
In 1965, the Twins hoped Killebrew would increase
his batting average. He cut down his swing at the expense of home runs. The
arrangement didn't last long, but Killebrew didn't bristle at a suggestion that
could have diverted him from Cooperstown.
In those days, Killebrew also bounced from first base to third base to left
field defensively, partly to accommodate the left-handed bat of first baseman
Don Mincher, and always for the good of the team.
Got used to moving around
"It would have been nice to stay in one position my entire career, but
that wasn't the way it was. I think it probably bothered me more early than
later in my career. I think the biggest problem was the changing of gloves from
first to third, and the different throwing. I think it did bother my hitting
earlier, but I learned to adjust to that."
He also learned to adjust to the brushback pitch. He didn't handle it by
charging the mound, though. Killebrew says he thought his method was better.
"In those days, there were probably a lot more of those pitches than
there are today," he says. "I found that those players who let the
pitchers know that it bothered them, well, those pitchers tended to throw near
them a little bit more.
"I found the best way to handle a brushback pitch - and I certainly
think that's part of the game, I think a pitcher has to pitch inside - is you
just get up and hit a line drive somewhere. Then they're going to leave you
When you're standing on a podium at Cooperstown delivering your acceptance
speech, people don't think about the brushback pitches you faced, the
frustrations and the slumps. Like everyone, the Twins' first Hall of Famer
suffered through slumps, but again his remedy was pragmatic.
"I tried to approach slumps just like I did streaks. If I went 4-for-4,
I tried to forget about it the next day. If I went 0-for-4, I tried to forget
that and get some hits the next day. Slumps are tough, and everybody has their
own way of getting out of them, I guess."
Killebrew kept out of them well enough to fill the Metropolitan Stadium
seats, and it was fitting that Tuesday night's crowd pushed the season
attendance at the Metrodome past the one million mark.
He was showered with gifts in a pre-game ceremony - his baseball career
didn't earn him much more than a million dollars - even getting a new set of
golf clubs from the visiting Milwaukee Brewers.
The fans showered him with three separate 90-second ovations.
He gave a brief, genuine speech, minus the strong emotions his showed Sunday
while accepting immortality at
"I don't think it really sunk in until I was on the platform Sunday for
the induction ceremonies," he said. "I said that I wasn't going to be
emotional about it, but I really couldn't help myself. It was quite an
emotional experience for me."