MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Harmon Killebrew announced Friday that he no longer plans to fight his esophageal cancer and has settled in for the final days of his life, saddening friends and fans of the 74-year-old Hall of Fame slugger.
In a statement released jointly by the Minnesota Twins and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Killebrew said “it is with profound sadness” that he will no longer receive treatment for the “awful disease.”
He said the cancer has been deemed incurable by his doctors and he will enter hospice care.
“With the continued love and support of my wife, Nita, I have exhausted all options,” Killebrew said. He added: “I have spent the past decade of my life promoting hospice care and educating people on its benefits. I am very comfortable taking this next step and experiencing the compassionate care that hospice provides.”
Killebrew, who’s 11th on baseball’s all-time home run list with 573, thanked his well-wishers for their support.
“I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with Nita by my side,” he said.
Killebrew lives in the Phoenix area and was receiving treatment at a branch of the Mayo Clinic nearby after his diagnosis in December. He expressed optimism at the time, saying he expected to make a full recovery while acknowledging he was in “perhaps the most difficult battle” of his life.
Killebrew was able to travel to Fort Myers, Fla., in March for his annual stint as a guest instructor at spring training with the Twins. He was in good spirits and appeared healthy, only thinner, quipping that manager Ron Gardenhire gave him the OK to show up a little late. He said he relished the opportunity to immerse himself in baseball and divert his focus from the treatment and the disease.
But his plan to throw out the first pitch at the team’s home opener in April was scrapped. He said then in a statement that such a trip would disrupt his treatment schedule, though he remained hopeful for a recovery.
Twins spokesman Kevin Smith said there was no prognosis given by Killebrew’s doctors for how much longer he might live. Instead of enduring chemotherapy, he’ll now be kept as comfortable as possible to deal with pain. Smith is one of a handful of Twins officials who have been in contact with the Killebrew and his family over the last few months.
Killebrew made 11 All-Star appearances during a 22-year career spent mostly with the Washington Senators and the Twins when they moved to Minnesota in 1961. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984 and was fifth on the career home run list when he retired in 1975 after one season with the Kansas City Royals.
Killebrew’s eight seasons with 40 or more homers is tied for second in league history to Babe Ruth. He won the American League MVP award in 1969, when the Twins won their division and lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the AL championship series.
The 49 homers, 140 RBIs and 145 walks he compiled that season remain Twins records.
In the plaza outside Target Field, there is a giant bronze glove where fans pose for pictures. It is the same distance from home plate, 520 feet, as that longest home run Killebrew ever hit. His No. 3 jersey is retired, and there’s a statue in his likeness outside the ballpark.
Killebrew has maintained a regular presence around the Twins over the years He made an effort to get to know almost all the current players, striking particularly close friendships with Michael Cuddyer(notes) and Jim Thome(notes) among others.
When Thome passed Killebrew on the career home run list last season, Killebrew issued a gracious congratulatory message. His nickname, “The Killer,” defied his humble, gentle demeanor, but he sure could crush a baseball with that big bat of his.
“I didn’t have evil intentions,” Killebrew once said, “but I guess I did have power.”
His home run totals turned out to be that much more impressive, given the smaller parks, watered-down pitching staffs and juiced balls and players that came in the decades after he retired.
Though Killebrew has been passed in recent years by Alex Rodriguez(notes) and Thome on the homer list to fall out of the top 10, he ought to be in 11th place for some time, particularly as dominant young pitchers have taken control of this post-steroid era in baseball. With Manny Ramirez’s(notes) sudden retirement last month, the next closest active players are Vladimir Guerrero(notes) and Chipper Jones(notes) with 440.
He was a great!
MINNEAPOLIS - Harmon Killebrew, the Minnesota Twins slugger known for his tape-measure home runs, has died at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., after battling esophageal cancer. He was 74.
The team said Killebrew died peacefully Tuesday morning with his wife, Nita, and their family at his side.
He had announced in December that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Last week, Killebrew announced that doctors had deemed his cancer incurable and he would no longer fight the "awful disease."
Killebrew hit 573 home runs during his 22-year career, 11th-most in major league history. His eight seasons with 40 or more homers still is tied for second in league history to Babe Ruth.
"No individual has ever meant more to the Minnesota Twins organization and millions of fans across Twins territory than Harmon Killebrew," Twins president Dave St. Peter said. He said Killebrew's legacy "will be the class, dignity and humility he demonstrated each and every day as a Hall of Fame-quality husband, father, friend, teammate and man. The Twins extend heartfelt sympathies and prayers to the Killebrew family at this difficult time."
Killebrew broke in with the Washington Senators in 1954 as an 18-year-old. He spent most of his first five seasons in the minors, then hit 42 homers in his first full season in 1959.
The Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961, and Killebrew hit 190 homers in his first four seasons there, including 49 in 1964.
The 11-time all-star was the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1969 after hitting 49 home runs with 140 RBIs and 145 walks, all team records that stand to this day.
"I found out early in life that I could hit a baseball farther than most players and that's what I tried to do," Killebrew said.
Behind their soft-spoken slugger nicknamed "The Killer," the Twins reached the World Series for the first time in 1965 and back-to-back AL Championship Series in 1969 and 1970.
Former Twins owner Calvin Griffith used to call Killebrew the backbone of the franchise. "He kept us in business," Griffith said.
The man whose silhouette inspired Major League Baseball's official logo was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984, the first Twin to be enshrined. Killebrew's No. 3 jersey was retired in 1975. Killebrew's easygoing demeanour contrasted starkly with his nickname and standing as one of baseball's most feared hitters.
"I didn't have evil intentions," Killebrew said on his website. "But I guess I did have power."
Harmon Clayton Killebrew was born June 29, 1936, in the Idaho farm town of Payette. He was an all-state quarterback in high school, but it was his power with a baseball bat in his hands that got Killebrew noticed by Washington Senators scout Ossie Bluege.
On Killebrew's website, Bluege recounts the story of how he signed the 17-year-old to a US$30,000 contract in 1953.
"I waited for the rain to stop in Payette, Idaho and then he hit one a mile over the left field fence," Bluege said. "I stepped it off the next morning and measured it at 435 feet. That convinced me."
Killebrew didn't just hit balls over the fence, he turned at-bats into longest-drive contests. He never worried much about his short game, preferring instead to swing for the fences, and wound up with a career .256 average.
"I didn't think much about batting average when I was playing," Killebrew said.
On June 3, 1967, Killebrew belted the longest home run in Met Stadium history, a shot that reached the second deck of the bleachers in the old park, some 500 feet from home plate.
"He hit line drives that put the opposition in jeopardy," Bluege once said. "And I don't mean the infielders. I mean the outfielders."
Killebrew finished his career with one season in Kansas City in 1975.
Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, said Killebrew personified Hall of Fame excellence and was simply one of the greatest hitters of all time.
"Since joining the Hall of Fame family in 1984, Harmon was a beacon of light among his fellow Hall of Famers, always smiling, always enjoying every moment that life delivered to his doorstep," she said. "We have so many fond memories of this wonderful baseball hero, and we will miss him enormously."
Killebrew and Nita had nine children.
In retirement, he became a successful businessman in insurance, financial planning and car sales. He also travelled the country with baseball memorabilia shows and returned to the Twin Cities regularly, delighting in conversations with fans and reunions with teammates.
"I never thought anything would compare to being elected into the Hall of Fame, but being able to interact with fans once my playing days were over has been just as gratifying," Killebrew said.