Harmon Killebrew Biography

Harmon Killebrew was a former professional baseball player who spent 22 years in the major leagues (with the Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals) and was considered one of the top power hitters of his era. Nicknamed "Killer," Killebrew led the American League in home runs for six seasons and was named an All-Star 11 times. After coming into the major leagues as an infielder, Killebrew played a number of positions during his career, including first base, left field and designated hitter. Killebrew hit more home runs than any other major leaguer during the 1960s, ending that decade as the AL MVP for the 1969 season, when he helped lead the Twins to a first-place finish in the newly-formed AL West division. At the time of his retirement in 1975, Killebrew had amassed 573 home runs, then the most ever by a right-handed hitter in AL history. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984, he spent time as a television broadcaster for the Twins, Oakland A's and California Angels following his playing career.

Early years

Harmon Clayton Killebrew was born in Payette, Idaho, on June 29, 1936. Active in a number of sports during high school, Killebrew was an accomplished quarterback for Payette High's team while also playing for the school's baseball team. He declined an athletic scholarship offered by the University of Oregon and decided to stay in-state and attend the University of Idaho.

While playing for a local semi-pro baseball team, Killebrew was scouted by Boston Red Sox and Washington Senators representatives (on the advice of Idaho Sen. Herman Welker). And just prior to his 18th birthday in June 1954, he signed a contract with the Senators.

Professional career

Originally signed as an infielder by the Washington Senators in 1954, Harmon Killebrew made his major league debut that same year but struggled in his first couple of seasons on the major league level. He then spent a couple of seasons in Washington's minor league squads before earning a spot in the team's starting lineup in 1959.

Finally becoming a regular at third base for the Senators, he did not disappoint and hit a league-leading 42 home runs that 1959 season (which would be the first of eight seasons that he would top 40 homers). An injury limited Killebrew's time on the field early in the next season, but he recovered to finish the 1960 campaign with more than 30 home runs, although the Senators again finished in the lower half of the American League standings.

Washington owner Calvin Griffith moved the team to Minnesota to become the Twins for the following season, when "Killer" Killebrew broke the franchise record for home runs by knocking 46 out of the park. He also hit one in the All-Star Game that year, and finished with a career-best .288 batting average while driving in 122 runs.

Killebrew moved to left field and his average dropped considerably in 1962, but he led the league in home runs (with 48) and RBIs (126) as the Twins improved on their league standing. Injury problems again affected the stocky slugger from Idaho in 1963 and 1964, but Killebrew remained healthy enough to lead the AL in homers in both seasons, breaking the franchise record again in 1964 by hitting 49.

The 1965 season proved historic for the Twins, who captured the AL pennant and hosted the All-Star Game that year. Killebrew had become the team's regular first baseman, and missed time in August and September of that year due to a dislocated elbow, but he would return for the postseason and hit his only World Series home run -- against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who would win the series in seven games.

The Twins then finished in second place in the AL the following two seasons, as Killebrew continued to pound opposing pitchers with his powerful batting. By the end of the 1967 season -- when one of his home runs was estimated to have traveled more than 520 feet into the upper deck of the Twins' Metropolitan Stadium -- the 31-year-old slugger had amassed 380 career home runs, more than the legendary Babe Ruth had hit by that age.

Killebrew was named as an AL All-Star for a sixth straight season in 1968, but he pulled a hamstring muscle in the midseason classic and missed the rest of the season. "Killer" returned to produce one of his top statistical seasons in 1969, matching his career best with 49 home runs and setting a career best with 140 RBIs to earn the AL MVP award and lead the Twins to a first-place finish in the newly-formed AL West division. Minnesota failed to reach the World Series after being swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 American League Championship Series. Killebrew followed that with 41 more home runs and 113 RBIs in 1970, when the Twins were again defeated in the playoffs by the Baltimore Orioles after finishing first in the AL West.

The Twins slugger reached the 500-home run mark late in the 1971 season, when he totaled just 28 HRs for the campaign but still led the AL in RBIs. That season marked his 11th and last appearance in an All-Star Game, when his two-run home run provided the eventual winning runs in a 6-5 AL victory at Tiger Stadium in Detroit.

Killebrew knocked in 74 runs for the Twins in the 1972 season, when the team finished with a 77-77 record. But it was evident that his power-hitting numbers were on the decline, and he totaled just 18 home runs and 86 RBIs over the 1973 and 1974 seasons.

Following the 1974 season, the 38-year-old Killebrew was offered the opportunity to remain with the Twins as a coach, but he left the club to sign a short-term contract with the Kansas City Royals. He spent just one season with Kansas City, but did appear in more than 100 games and hit 14 home runs for a Royals team that finished near the bottom of the AL West standings.

Killebrew retired after the 1975 season, finishing his career with 573 home runs and 1,584 RBIs while compiling a .256 batting average in the major leagues. At that time, his home run total was fifth best in major league history, while also representing the most home runs by a right-handed hitter in the American League. In 1984, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Later years

Following his retirement from major league baseball, Harmon Killebrew became a television broadcaster (for the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A's and California Angels) from the mid-1970s through the late-1980s.

Killebrew also started an insurance business in Boise, Idaho, after his retirement from baseball, but he left that business in 1987 to devote more time to an automobile dealership, Harmon Killebrew Motors, that he had founded in Ontario, Oregon. After selling the dealership in 1990, Killebrew moved to Arizona to establish a professional endorsement business. He and his wife Nita later founded the Harmon Killebrew Foundation, which raised funds for the benefit of his favorite charities and also partnered with the national office of the Miracle League to offer assistance in fundraising efforts across the country.

In December 2010, Killebrew announced that he had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. After a few months of treatment at Mayo facilities in Arizona and with the disease deemed incurable, Killebrew entered hospice care in mid-May of 2011. He passed away on May 17, 2011, at the age of 74.