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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Harmon Killebrew, Requiescat In Pace.

Harmon Killebrew was known for his soft side - Herald-Review.com

Former American League catcher Dave Duncan, the Cardinals' pitching coach, talked of how far the late Harmon Killebrew hit home runs and how often Duncan had called the fateful pitch. Indeed, of Killebrew's 573 home runs, Duncan called 12 of them.

Red Schoendienst, a fellow Hall of Famer with Killebrew, remembered that his youngest daughter, Eileen, had decided Killebrew was one of her favorite players, even though she hadn't seen him play in person because Killebrew was in the American League.

"I guess it was because he hit home runs,'' said Schoendienst, reinforcing the notion that chicks dug the long ball even then.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who played occasionally in the majors as a young infielder, remembered being "afraid'' when Killebrew was at bat. "I was saying, 'Don't hit it this way,''' recalled La Russa.

But all of the above joined Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, a teammate of Killebrew's for four seasons in Minnesota from 1969-72, in talking of how a man nicknamed "Killer'' was actually a kind, compassionate man.

Manuel related Tuesday night that he "had lost a good friend.'' Killebrew died at age 74 in Arizona on Tuesday.

Asked what memories came to mind, Manuel said there were far too many. "If I told you all my memories of Killebrew, we'd be here until this time next year,'' said Manuel.

"When I saw (that Killebrew had died of esophageal cancer), it was very sad,'' said Manuel, "but, at the same time, when I started to thinking about the laughter and some of the things we did ...''

Then, Manuel talked of his first big-league camp at Tinker Field in Orlando. He was lockered between Twins stars Killebrew and Bob Allison. "Even to this day, I can't hardly believe that,'' said Manuel.

"Both of them were very good friends of mine. That's probably the best thing I can say about him.''

But Killebrew and Allison weren't above a little rookie hazing.

When the threesome went fishing in the early morning, Manuel was assigned to wade through the water and pull the boat. "They were scared to wade in the lake,'' said Manuel. "There were some alligators in there and otters and things like that that would jump on your leg.

"I'd take the fish chain and hook it to the boat. That was part of being a rookie. But I wasn't worried about it. I used to wade in the river when I was growing up. No big deal.''

Manuel always has delighted in telling Killebrew stories when somebody would inform him of how far another slugger had hit a ball in a certain American League park. Manuel almost always had a "one up,'' with Killebrew.

Manuel said, "I'd sit there and used to take it for granted when he would hit - because he did hit a lot of home runs. Like in '69, he hit 11 off Oakland's staff and he hit a lot of those off Rollie Fingers.''

Manuel was dead-on. Killebrew did hit 11 off Oakland that year, three off future Hall of Famer Fingers.

"He was a guy who would hit them in the later part of the game,'' said Manuel. "I took him for granted because I expected him to hit them. He was that good.''

Duncan said, "(Killebrew) and Frank Howard were probably the premier home-run hitters in that period. He hit them long - and high.''

Roy Sievers, the resident power hitter of the Washington Senators at the time, was one of the first to discover Killebrew. Sievers, a native St. Louisan who still lives here at age 84, said, "The first time I saw Harmon in Chicago (1956), we worked him out as a kid. He was so strong he was hitting them into the left-field seats like crazy. I told the other players Calvin Griffth (Washington owner) had better sign him because he's going to be a big star.''

A couple of years later, Killebrew, after less than three seasons in the minors, joined Sievers with Washington. In 1959, Killebrew hit 42 homers to tie Sievers for the Washington record set by Sievers in 1957. He was using a Sievers model bat, and for a while after joining the Senators, he was even using Sievers' own bat.

"He had a better time with it than I did,'' recalled Sievers.

"It was a pleasure to play with him,'' said Sievers, who was traded to the Chicago White Sox before the 1960 season once Killebrew had established himself as the new Sievers in Washington.

"He will go down in history as one of the best righthanded home-run hitters in the history of the American League.''

Killebrew, in fact, is second to Alex Rodriguez (621) among rigththanded-hitting power hitters in the American League. But it all comes back to his personality.

"I think more about the type of person he was,'' said Duncan. "He was just a really great guy.''

Manuel, seconding that encomium, said, "He would do anything for you. I never heard him say anything bad about anybody. Ever.''

St. Louis fans never got to see Killebrew except for one game, that 100-plus-degree All-Star Game played at Busch Stadium II, in 1966.

"I was never so hot in my life,'' Killebrew told a St. Louis reporter many years later.

That reporter also will never forget how he was treated by Killebrew the night of the Hall of Fame ceremonies in 2007 in Cooperstown, N.Y. Through a scheduling adjustment, the J.G. Taylor Spink Award was presented last that day.

Killebrew, like many of the Hall of Famers in attendance, probably was ready for the long program to be over.

That night, well after the final acceptance speech of 6 minutes, 40 seconds, Killebrew approached the reporter and said, "Great speech.''

The reporter responded, "You probably liked it because it was short.''

"Well, yeah,'' said Killebrew. "But it was still a great speech.''

Like Charlie Manuel said, Killebrew never had anything bad to say about anybody.

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First of all, the word is SEX, not GENDER. If you are ever tempted to use the word GENDER, don't. The word is SEX! SEX! SEX! SEX! For example: "My sex is male." is correct. "My gender is male." means nothing. Look it up. What kind of sick neo-Puritan nonsense is this? Idiot left-fascists, get your blood-soaked paws off the English language. Hence I am choosing "male" under protest.

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