YUCAIPA, CA – Late into the night, lying on my bed in my upstairs farmhouse bedroom, I would listen to Twins games on the old Motorola. Listening and hoping the Killer would crush another of his tape measure home runs.
Back in the early 1960s I was a true Minnesota Twins fan. And my favorite ball player was Hall of Famer, Harmon Killebrew.
But we – his loyal fans – preferred to call him Killer.
Killebrew swung a bat harder than anyone in the game. Killebrew didn’t just hit home runs, he crushed them. And when he didn’t hit a home run, he often times struck out. But I didn’t mind. A batter striking out never looked better than Killebrew.
I can still see the Killer in my mind’s eye with his barrel chest and massive Popeye forearms swinging so hard that the bat made a “whooshing” sound as it cut violently through the air like a samurai sword punishing any baseball in its path. And sending it screaming high and deep over the left field fence.
Former major league manager, Charlie Dressen, was once quoted as saying, “Harmon hit home runs like Babe Ruth. They hit fly balls so high they didn’t look like they would go out of the park, but the ball just carried and carried and carried over the fence.”
Fellow Hall of Famer, Reggie Jackson, once said, “They definitely were right when they named him Killer. Man, I love to watch that guy work even if he is beating our brains out…”
On one particular baseball-playing day in 1995 I opened up the sports page and read that Harmon Killebrew would be appearing at the Quakes Stadium in Rancho Cucamonga to greet his fans and sign autographs.
I was elated. “I’m leaving work early today,” I told my insurance office staff. “I gotta go and see the Killer.”
“See the what?” my two staff members said almost in unison. So I explained my admiration for one of major league baseball’s greatest and most revered players of all time.
The line was already snake-like and long when I walked into Quakes Stadium. I could see Killebrew about 30 yards in front of me. He smiled, stuck out his hand for a solid handshake and posed for pictures. And the Killer patiently signed baseball upon baseball for his adoring fans. Many of them in their late 40s, 50s, and 60s, like myself.
“You a Twins fan?” I asked the guy standing in front of me.
“Yah, me and my dad used to drive from North Dakota to Twins games when I was a kid,” said the man, who appeared to be in his late 40s.
“I couldn’t go to the games, but I listened to the Twins on the radio and watched whenever they were on TV,” I said.
We both agreed that this was a special occasion for us meet Killebrew. We were like little kids taken back in time to finally meet our Twins’ hero face-to-face.
The line slowly moved along inching closer to the Killer. I could feel us both tensing up. The excitement growing.
I had brought along my camera to have my picture taken with Harmon. And seeing that my new friend didn’t have a camera, I offered to take his picture and send it to him.
“That would be great,” he said, quickly scribbling down his address.
Finally, it was my turn. Over 30 years had passed since I had last seen the Killer. His arms and chest didn’t appear as massive. But when he shook my hand his grip was strong. Just like a home run hitter’s should be.
“I used to live in Minnesota and watched you and the Twins as a kid,” I blurted out, not knowing what else to say as I stood in front of him.
“Where did you live?” he asked.
“South of the Twin Cities near Cannon Falls,” I said, figuring he had never heard of Wanamingo.
“We used to hunt pheasant down that way, good hunting area,” he said with a big smile on his face.
“I think my mom had a crush on you. She always talked about what a nice man you were,” I said. “Whenever the Twins were on TV she always seemed to watch when you were batting.”
Harmon just chuckled while he autographed my ball. I think he knew quite a few of the ladies hearts fluttered when he stepped into the batters box and took his mighty swings. The Killer’s autograph was free – free from a Hall of Famer, who slugged 573 career home runs – many of them of the tape measure variety, and who played in 11 All-Star games.
When I asked to have my picture taken with him he willingly obliged. And now I have a picture I have cherished for years. A picture with just me and the Killer side-by-side.
Twins teammate Dave Boswell once said of Killebrew, “If I had to size him up, I’d call him “The Quiet Killer.’”
Boswell could well have added kind, considerate, and a man of extraordinary character.
A Major Leaguer worthy of a young boy’s admiration while he listens to a Twins game with his ears tuned to an old Motorola late at night while lying on his bed. Listening for the sound of a bat crushing a ball. Listening as the Killer hits another of his tape measure home runs.
(Are you a Twins fan? Do you have memories you would like to share of the early years, when the franchise moved from Washington D.C. to Metropolitan Stadium in 1961? Who were your favorite Twins and why? What memories do you cherish most about the Twins franchise? Did your dad or mom take you to Twins games and what do you recall about those times? I’d like to share your memories, so just send me your replies and I’ll post them.)