Killebrew remembered for big bat, big heartby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota Twins fans and former players say Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew will be known as much for his off-field demeanor as his ability to hit home runs. Killebrew died Tuesday after battling cancer. He was 74.
Baseball fans started showing up at Target Field not long after hearing the news of Harmon Killebrew's death.
Jackie Oie of north Minneapolis came with flowers in one hand and a leash to her dog Bailey in the other. She placed the flowers at the feet of a bronze statue of Killebrew on the plaza outside the ballpark.
"Three roses for No. 3," she said, referring to the number that Killebrew wore on his jersey his entire career with the Twins.
Oie said she feels like she's lost a friend, and choked up at times as she shared her memories of Killebrew. Oie remembered meeting him once -- sort of -- at the Metrodome.
"I ran up to him and he had security guards next to him ... but I just wanted to give him a hug because he's the man," Oie recalled. "He's the icon of the Twins. And I know there's a lot of others. But, when I was growing up -- Charmin' Harmon."
Oie said she never referred to Killebrew by his other nickname, "Killer." To her, Killebrew always appeared to be calm and even-tempered.
Another fan, David Erdmann, agreed. Erdmann grew up in Minnesota, but now lives in Atlanta. He said he met Killebrew a couple times and came away thinking he was a "super nice guy and class act."
Erdmann was making his first visit to Target Field. He took pictures of Killebrew's statue and other landmarks outside the ballpark. Erdmann said Killebrew was his favorite baseball player.
"Because he was good at what he did, and he was humble about it at the same time. He was not a showoff or a braggart," said Erdmann.
Another fan, Maryann Wiborg of Long Lake, used many of the same adjectives to describe Killebrew.
"He was the rock," said Wiborg. "He was a good person through and through, and really set the standard. Kirby was a lot like him, but Harmon came first."
Wiborg was referring to another Twins fan favorite, Kirby Puckett, who died five years ago.
Killebrew retired from baseball in 1975, after playing one season with the Kansas City Royals. He maintained close ties to the Twins organization and players.
Legendary Twins outfielder Tony Oliva was friends with Killebrew for 50 years. When he heard last week that Killebrew stopped fighting his cancer to enter hospice care, he got on a plane to Arizona to be by his old friend's side. Oliva said for a while, Killebrew was in good spirits.
"Killebrew was laughing. And that was very happy for me because I was thinking I was going to see him in very bad shape," said Oliva. "When I saw him laughing and talking, it was a big surprise for me."
Oliva said he saw the Killebrew he always knew, a man who was constantly positive and was more concerned about others than himself. Other Twins officials say at times over his last days, Killebrew seemed more worried about the bad season the Twins were having than his illness.
Paul Molitor, a Twin Cities native who became a big league star, also visited Killebrew.
"I'm glad that God brought him home after the suffering he's been through the last few months," Molitor said, his eyes watering. He added: "I was very appreciative of the man he was and how I was able to learn from him. I picked the guy that you would want to pick to be your idol."
Former Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek grew up in Minnesota and watched Killebrew play at Metropolitan Stadium. He said Killebrew was his childhood hero. Hrbek said he remembers sitting in the bleachers, hoping to catch a home run ball from Killebrew's bat.
Hrbek never did, and he would tell Killebrew about it years later.
"I used to rib him about it -- everytime I was waiting for him to hit one to me he always struck out," Hrbek recalled. "And he would always say back to me, 'You struck out a few times too, kid.'"
Hrbek said he considers Killebrew as much a Minnesota icon as Paul Bunyan.
As a baseball player, Killebrew's hitting power stood out. With 573 career home runs, Killebrew is No. 11 on Major League Baseball's home run list.
Former pitcher Jack Morris says Killibrew was more than just a slugger. He recalled Killebrew for the many charitable efforts he supported through his foundation. Morris said Killebrew was a loving father, husband and grandfather.
"The one thing that hits home the most about Harmon is his strength, not as a player, but as a person," said Morris. And his kindness, and the strength in his kindness."
Twins President Dave St. Peter said the team will wear a No. 3 patch on the uniforms for the rest of the season. A replica of his smooth, eloquent signature -- Killebrew chided current Twins player Michael Cuddyer earlier in his career for a sloppy autograph -- will be printed on the outfield wall. The team also planned a public memorial service, likely for May 26.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
More from MPRTwins great Harmon Killebrew dies at 74
May 17, 2011
Remembering Twins great Harmon Killebrew
May 17, 2011
Photos: Remembering Harmon Killebrew
May 17, 2011
From the MPR archive: Killebrew's journey to the Hall of Fame
May 17, 2011
- Morning Edition, 05/18/2011, 7:20 a.m.