Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Harmon Killebrew (#150)

I posted Harmon Killebrew’s 1967 card several years ago, as part of a post about Topps messing up their own color scheme, and used 6 of his cards in an obituary post more recently. Now Harmon is back as the first baseman for the “Hangin’ at the Bat Rack” team.

Killebrew bashed more home runs (393) during the 1960s than any other player, and although he is most often thought of as a 1st baseman, he also played a lot at 3rd base, and even a few seasons in left field, as the Twins moved him around in an effort to get him and fellow sluggers Bob Allison and Don Mincher all into the same lineup.

“Killer” was signed by the (old) Washington Senators as a bonus baby in 1954. That meant keeping him on the major-league roster from day 1 of his pro career. As such, he spent his first 2 seasons with Washington, although only playing in 9 games in ’54 and 38 games in ’55 as a pinch-hitter and backup 3rd baseman (with a few games at 2nd base).

Killebrew finally got his minor-league seasoning from 1956 to 1958. He split his time between Washington and class-A Charlotte in 1956, then spent most of the next 2 seasons in the minors. He hit 29 homers at double-A Chattanooga in ’57 and another 19 dingers in 1958.

In 1959, Harmon was brought back to the majors to stay. In his first season of fulltime play, he led the AL with 42 homers (something he would repeat 5 more times in the next 10 seasons). He also made his first of 11 all-star appearances. Harmon started all but 5 games that season at 3rd base, taking over from last year’s regular, Eddie Yost.

1960 was the team’s final season in the nation’s capital, and Killebrew found himself beginning the season as the 3rd baseman, with rookie Don Mincher at 1st base. By mid-season, Killer was moved to 1st base (a new position for him), and ended up starting 71 games there. Harmon remained at 1st base for most of 1961, although also starting a few dozen games at 3rd. He clouted 46 homers, but was a distant 3rd behind Roger Maris (61) and Mickey Mantle (54).

The following season he led the AL with 48 homers and 126 RBI (and 142 strikeouts), and found a new position (left field). He started 150 games in left, after the Twins acquired veteran 1st-sacker Vic Power from the Indians a few days before opening day. The next 2 seasons were carbon-copies of 1962. Harmon led the league with 45 and 49 homers, and was the team’s everyday left fielder.

Following knee surgery, Killebrew returned to the infield starting in 1965. That season, he was limited to 113 games and only 25 home runs, missing all of August and most of September with a dislocated elbow (from a collision with a baserunner). He returned on 9/21, just in time to play against the Dodgers in the World Series. He bat .286 with 1 homer in the post-season.

When Mincher was traded to the Angels after the 1966 season, Killbrew primarily played 1st base for the rest of his career, although he was back at 3rd base for most of 1969 and 1970. Killer again led the AL in home runs in 1967 (44) and 1969 (49). In 1969, he also led the league with 140 RBI and won the MVP award.

In his last 2 seasons (1974-75) he was primarily used as a DH. He was released by the Twins in January 1975, and played his final season with the Royals.

Killebrew was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984. In 2010 he was diagnosed with cancer, and died in 2011 at age 74.


Douglas said...

Harmon is a classic. A true Minnesota Legend. The hero of my first MLB game, 7/2/70.

Matt Runyon said...

He really had a tough year in 1968. Year of the Pitcher indeed.

Douglas said...

He got hurt in the all star game that year.