MINNEAPOLIS - Harmon Killebrew, the affable, big-swinging Hall of Famer whose tape-measure home runs made him the cornerstone of the Minnesota Twins, died Tuesday at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., after battling esophageal cancer. He was 74.
The Twins said Mr. Killebrew passed away peacefully with his wife, Nita, and their family at his side. He announced his diagnosis just six months ago and last week Mr. Killebrew said doctors had deemed the "awful disease" incurable.
Mr. 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 upper-cut swing formed the silhouette that inspired Major League Baseball's official logo.
He hit 573 home runs in his career, 11th on the all-time list.
"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 Mr. 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 Tuesday morning at the state capitol in honor of Mr. Killebrew.
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 Mr. 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 Mr. Killebrew, with 1936-2011 superimposed.
Mr. Killebrew broke in with the Washington Senators in 1954 as an 18-year-old. He spent most of his first five seasons in the minors, then hit 42 homers in his first full season in 1959. The Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961, and Mr. Killebrew hit 190 homers in his first four seasons there, including 49 in 1964.
The 11-time all-star was the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1969 after hitting 49 home runs with 140 RBIs and 145 walks, all team records that stand to this day.
"I found out early in life that I could hit a baseball farther than most players, and that's what I tried to do," Mr. Killebrew said.
Behind their soft-spoken slugger nicknamed "The Killer," the Twins reached the World Series for the first time in 1965 and back-to-back AL Championship Series in 1969 and 1970.
Former Twins owner Calvin Griffith used to call Mr. Killebrew the backbone of the franchise. "He kept us in business," Griffith said.
Mr. Killebrew was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984, the first Twin to be enshrined. Mr. Killebrew's No. 3 jersey was retired in 1975. Mr. Killebrew's easygoing demeanor contrasted starkly with his nickname and standing as one of baseball's most feared hitters.
"I didn't have evil intentions," Mr. Killebrew said on his website. "But I guess I did have power."
Harmon Clayton Killebrew was born June 29, 1936, in the Idaho farm town of Payette. He was an all-state quarterback in high school, but it was his power with a baseball bat in his hands that got Mr. Killebrew noticed by Washington Senators scout Ossie Bluege, who signed the 17-year-old to a $30,000 contract in 1953.