MINNEAPOLIS - Harmon Killebrew, the affable, big-swinging Hall of Famer whose tape-measure home runs made him the cornerstone of the Minnesota Twins, died yesterday at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., after battling esophageal cancer. He was 74.
The Twins said Killebrew passed away peacefully with his wife, Nita, and their family at his side. He announced his diagnosis just 6 months ago and last week Killebrew said doctors had deemed the "awful disease" incurable.
Killebrew is 11th on baseball's all-time home run list after a 22-year career. His eight seasons with 40 or more homers still is tied for second in league history to Babe Ruth, and his uppercut swing formed the silhouette that inspired Major League Baseball's official logo.
"No individual has ever meant more to the Minnesota Twins organization and millions of fans across Twins territory than Harmon Killebrew," Twins president Dave St. Peter said. He said Killebrew'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. The Twins extend heartfelt sympathies and prayers to the Killebrew family at this difficult time."
The Minnesota House observed a moment of silence yesterday morning at the state capitol in honor of Killebrew. Rep. Bob Barrett of Shafer recalled how his father once did contracting work at Killebrew's home and "couldn't remember having met a nicer man."
Said Barrett: "He was a great player, but he was an even greater man."
At Target Field, members of the Twins' ground crew slowly lifted home plate and slipped under it a plastic-encased, black-and-white photo of Killebrew winding up for a swing. The picture, believed to be from the 1960s, will stay beneath the plate the rest of the season.
The stadium video board showed a photo of Killebrew, with 1936-2011 superimposed.
"I found out early in life that I could hit a baseball farther than most players and that's what I tried to do," said Killebrew, an 11-time All-Star and the American League's MVP in 1969 after hitting 49 homers with 140 RBI and 145 walks, all team records to this day.