Harmon Killebrew 1936-2011
Today one of my heroes died. I came of age in the late 1960s and early 70s, a time of societal unrest when heroes were few and far between. Mostly we had scruffy anti-heroes of the Eliot Gould "Easy Rider" type.
But Harmon was clean cut, and strong and well spoken. I do not believe I have ever heard anyone say a single bad thing about him.
He hit 573 home runs in a 22 year career. And did this without any performance enhancing substances stronger than milk. But it was how he hit the home runs that sticks in the mind of anyone who has seen him do it. He had a gigantic, extravagant, wide open haymaker of a swing.
When our oldest son was born we gave him the middle name of Harmon. It was my hope, largely realized, that he would grow up to be somewhat in the mold of his namesake. I wrote Harmon a fan letter to this effect and got in return a nice autographed picture that is on the wall behind me.
Last summer my wife noted that Harmon would be speaking at a banquet in a nearby town. We had no particular connection with the event but also did not have much going on that night. So we got tickets, sat with some nice strangers and heard Harmon speak about his playing days. I thought then that he looked a bit frail, some six months before he announced he had esophageal cancer.
Afterwards I came up to where he was autographing things for fans. I said "Mr. Killebrew, I don't need anything signed, I just wanted to let you know we named our son after you."
He smiled, shook my hand and said he had heard of a few dogs named after him, but not children.
He was probably, and so typically, being modest, as I have since heard of other "Harmons" born to fans.
Oh, his life was not perfect. He married young and got divorced. One of his children did time in prison for robbing a bank. He was too nice a guy not to be taken advantage of in business matters and had a few financial setbacks. But through it all I repeat, nobody ever said a bad word about him.
Scroll back up to the picture. This is the iconic Killebrew. It is the moment just after contact, the solid crack of the bat still reverberating across the stadium. The picture show us only one thing, a man who has just thrown his entire being into accomplishing the single most difficult feat in all of professional sports.
The other team is represented only by the outstretched hands of the catcher, futilely awaiting a ball that will never arrive.
Because the ball is also out of the picture just as Harmon has now left us. And like him it is out of our view but is without doubt ascending, heavenward, majestically rising.