At home at fenway

Keeping on eye on Dustin, Papi, Youk & a few good books

Harmon defined Power.

Posted by athomeatfenway on May 18, 2011

The personification of power in the 1960's.

Harmon Killebrew passed away yesterday at the too young age of 74.  His passing brings so many thoughts.

As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I painfully remember how BoSox Scout Early Johnson failed to sign him out of high school.  Johnson had him on his radar long before the Washington Senators noticed him.  The old Scout met him in a farm field and learned that Harmon adored Ted Williams.  When Johnson returned at a later date with a Ted Williams Louisville Slugger W166 gamer as a gift, Harmon told Johnson the Sox had the inside track but would need to match the $12,000 bonus he was just offered by the Senators.   In a decision that likely prolonged The Curse, the Red Sox front office decided not to make the $12,000 investment and passed on what would be a HOF career with 573 home runs.

Imagine what Harmon would have done in Fenway.

You can find the details of that story within the pages of SWEET SPOT, 125 Years of Baseball and the Louisville Slugger, by David Magee and Phillip Shirley.

Never accused of being svelte, Harmon was nicknamed “The Fat Kid” by other MLB ballplayers, a secret Jim Bouton shared in his 1970 tour de force, BALL FOUR.   His shape foretold a brawny power that made him the most dangerous power hitter in Baseball.  Think Cecil Fielder.  Think Prince Fielder.  Had Harmon played in a major market he would have moved from acceptance as one of the 5 best hitters in the game to the top spot.   There was respect and fear when he came to the plate.

Killer hit 49 home runs in 1969 and walked 145 times.  With Carew and Oliva hitting in front of him, and rookie Graig Nettles batting .222 behind him, Harmon’s Twins won the first ever Western Division title, later falling to a great Oriole team, which later fell to the Miraculous Mets in the WS..

We can look back at Harmon now from our post-steroid, hidden-HGH-era with Jose Bautista as the new Poster Boy and know that Harmon Killebrew was the real deal.

I had the pleasure of meeting Harmon in Warwick, R.I. in the mid-90’s when he signed my 1960’s store model Louisville Slugger.  He was a gentle man.  A little on the quiet side, I thought, but then again so was I.  I was meeting a baseball god, after all.

Growing up in the 60’s and playing 3 games of pick-up baseball a day, two of them before lunch, I realized a young player’s mojo was partly determined by which MLB player name was burned into his bat.

You could swing a Rico Carty and hit for high average.  You could hit in the clutch with a Pete Rose.  A Henry Aaron model was always dangerous.  But a Harmon Killebrew bat was made for moon shots and no-doubters.  If you were man enough to heft it.

Last year I saw a little Harmon Killebrew get in the batter’s box in a Little League game.  It was late and the Coach was emptying the bench.  This kid was about 4 feet tall and 125 pounds, his stocky little frame poured into a uniform.  He lined a shot that hit the outfield wall on one bounce.  Naturally I thought of Harmon Killebrew.

Baseball is a game in which all shapes and sizes may find a place.  Pedroia is so short you could eat candy off the top of his head.  Randy Johnson wouldn’t need a ladder to clean my garage gutters.  Your grandmother could beat Prince Fielder to first base. 

The egalitarian nature of Baseball allows all to come and play, and it is also true that if blessed with strength and perseverance, all types may enter the Hall of Fame.

Harmon Killebrew, squarish and looming, was the personification of power in the 1960’s.

Rest in Peace, Harmon.

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