May 17, 2011: The most prolific professional athlete ever to come out of the state of Idaho passes away at the age of 74. There was no brighter beacon from the Gem State in pro sports than Harmon Killebrew—on so many levels. He grew up in Payette, starring in multiple sports. In fact, Killebrew could have been a quarterback at Oregon, but he declined the Ducks’scholarship offer. Baseball was his first love. With help from Idaho Sen. Herman Welker, Killebrew broke into the majors as a 17-year-old in 1954 with the Washington Senators.
The Senators eventually became the Twins, and Killebrew became Minnesota’s most popular player. He had a classic compact swing that generated massive power, and he became known for his tape-measure home runs. Killebrew smashed the longest homer in the history of old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington—520 feet—and he was the first player ever to hit a ball over the leftfield roof at Tiger Stadium. His best season came in 1969 when he was named American League MVP after belting 49 home runs and amassing 140 RBI.
Killebrew finished his career in 1975 with 573 home runs and stood fifth on baseball’s all-time list for the next 25 years. He was also the top right-handed home run hitter in American League history until being passed by Alex Rodriguez. Inexplicably, Killebrew reached his fourth year of eligibility before finally being elected to the Baseball Hall Of Fame in 1984. His No. 3 was retired by the Twins in 1975, and the street alongside the Mall Of America on the former site of the Met is called Killebrew Drive.
But Killebrew also left a legacy of caring, typified by the golf event he founded in 1977 honoring a Minnesota Twins teammate, the Danny Thompson Memorial Tournament in Sun Valley. The event is now known as the Killebrew-Thompson Memorial, and it has donated more than $15.6 million to cancer and leukemia research. Killebrew was known as one of the kindest men ever to play Major League Baseball. Many of us here in Idaho experienced it.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)