June 13, 2011

Baseball Great Killebrew

This week’s story is about a man who liked to visit kids in hospitals.  His name was Harmon Killebrew.  He was a famous baseball player, famous for how many home runs he hit over his career and how far so many of them flew.  When I learned about him, I knew I wanted to tell you about him.

Harmon was discovered in a semi professional baseball diamond, batting .847 as a 17 year old kid.  No one knows why he was such a good hitter, but I think it was from his upbringing.  He worked on his family farm hauling 10 gallon milk buckets around, which weighed 95 pounds each.  Harmon was signed on with the Washington Senators team, but became famous while playing for the Minnesota Twins.  Over the course of his career, he hit 573 homers, earning him the nickname ‘Killer.’  That rivals Babe Ruth’s record.  

But what makes Harmon remarkable is how gentle and kind he was. Among rough baseball players who smoked, drank, and behaved badly, Harmon was kind and stayed out of trouble.  Once a reporter asked him what he did for fun while all the other players were our carousing and he replied, “Well, I guess I like to do the dishes.”(Heilman)  He got married and had a family.  When an umpire made a call against him, Harmon would turn and tell him he made a good call.  No other player ever did anything that nice.  And he spent his free time visiting sick kids in hospitals when he toured distant cities.  

One such visit made the papers, so I could read about it.  A kid named Johnny Guirney was recovering from serious burns in a hospital in New York City in May 1964.  Johnny was so excited to see Harmon Killebrew walk through his hospital room door, and was even happier when Harmon offered him an autographed baseball.  He pulled out his mitt from under his pillow and asked Harmon to sign it too.  Johnny told Harmon he played shortstop on his little league equivalent team, and asked Harmon to hit a homer for him.  Harmon said he’d try that night in the game against the Yankees.  But before he left, Harmon told Johnny to get better quickly and if he did, Harmon would bring him to their next game in New York and introduce him to the team.  

Johnny did recover, and Harmon brought him to the game in New York on Sept 12, 1964.  This photo was taken at the game.  Johnny, now 55, said, “That hospital visit 47 years ago lifted my spirits. I watched the whole game from my hospital bed. I was shocked when Killebrew made good on his two-home run call.  He was a great ballplayer but a greater human being."  (Walsh)
The Minnesota Twins President David St. Peter recently said, “No individual has ever meant more to the Minnesota Twins organization and millions of fans across Twins Territory than Harmon Killebrew. Harmon will long be remembered as one of the most prolific home run hitters in the history of the game and the leader of a group of players who helped lay the foundation for the long-term success of the Twins franchise and Major League Baseball in the Upper Midwest. However, more importantly Harmon's legacy will be the class, dignity and humility he demonstrated each and every day as a Hall of Fame-quality husband, father, friend, teammate and man.”  (Star Tribune)
“Harmon had I don’t know how many home runs,” former home run king Hank Aaron said. “In his case, really, in all fairness to him, he was No. 1 really. He hit 1,000 home runs because he did so many great things off the field. That’s what counts, it’s not how you play the game, it’s how you play it afterward.”  (Ultimate Astros)
Now for the funny story about another special feat—Harmon hit a homerun right to one of his kids, who caught it barehanded!  Harmon and his wife had 5 kids and they often came to his games.  They sat in a specific place each game, with the other players’ families.  It was near the dugout, not out in the stands.  So how did Harmon’s son Ken catch his 498th homer?  That’s what Harmon wanted to know when the cameras panned over to see his 13 year old son Ken  holding up the ball, beaming, over in far left field.  
Ken explained, “I still have [the ball.  My Dad] was kind of ticked off. He wanted to know what I was doing out there.  We weren't allowed to have cake and candy and ice cream and sugar and pop and stuff. Mom and Dad were real strict about our diet. It was all health food — whole-wheat this, whole-wheat that, organic everything. We had a garden.  So I was out there (in the left-field stands) pigging out on Frosty Malts and hot dogs, so nobody could tell on me."  (Perry)
I think that is a really funny story.  So Ken was being sneaky and his Dad still found out because of his home run!  I can’t help but wonder about this coincidence.  I don’t think any other child of a player caught his father’s home run while in the stands as a fan.  Perhaps Heavenly Father had a good laugh at the idea of getting Ken in trouble with his father by sending this home run straight to him.  If so, Heavenly Father has a great sense of humor.  And it would also remind us that He is acutely aware of everything that is happening around us.    

Harmon Killebrew was a great man.  Although he could have turned out like many professional athletes—spoiled, selfish and wild—he was gentle, humble and kind-hearted.   Scott remembers watching him play and that he was always a good role model.  The difference must have been the gospel of Jesus Christ, which taught Harmon how to live a good life and be happy. 


 “Harmon Killebrew.”  Wikipedia 17 Aug 2012: n. page. web. 21 Aug 2012.

Heilman, Barbara.  “Out of the Park on a Half Swing.”  Sports Illustrated 8 Apr 1963: n. pag. web. 13 June 2011. 

Perry, Dwight. “Buy me some Cracker Jack, Just Don’t Tell my Dad.” The Seattle Times. 21 May 2011: n. pag. web. 13 June 2011.

"Quotes about the Death of Twins Great Harmon Killebrew." Star Tribune 17 May 2011: n. pag. web. 13 June 2011.

“Twins Say One Last Goodbye to Harmon Killebrew.”  Ultimate Astros 26 May 2011: n. pag. web. 13 June 2011. 

Walsh, Paul.  “The day Killebrew Hit Homers for Ailing Boy.” Minneapolis Star Tribune 20 May 2011:  n. pag. web. 13 June 2011. 

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