Harmon Killebrew was more than a great baseball player; for he was also a great man!
by Charlie Leck
I’m a Twins fan. I have been since they came up here to Minnesota and started playing baseball in 1961. The Killer, as he was called, came here with the Twins from Washington, D.C., where they had been called the Washington Senators.
So, quite naturally, I sat down with dinner to watch the Twins game last night against the Toronto Blue Jays. Dick Bremer, the team’s TV play-by-play guy, announced with a sad voice that he wanted to read a statement that had been released that day by Harmon Killebrew through the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. With a sad and unsteady voice, he read…
STATEMENT FROM HARMON ILLEBREW
National Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 1984
“It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end. With the continued love and support of my wife, Nita. I have exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease. My illness has progressed beyond my doctors’ expectation of cure.
“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.
“I am comforted by the fact that I am surrounded by my family and friends. I thank you for the outpouring of concern, prayers and encouragement that you have shown me. I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with Nita by my side. I am comforted by the fact that I am surrounded by my family and friends. I thank you for the outpouring of concern, prayers and encouragement that you have shown me. I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with Nita by my side."
I’m not ashamed to say that tears poured down my face as Bremer read. Harmon Killebrew was a giant of a human being. He wasn’t just a fine, fine baseball player. He is also an extraordinary, kind and caring person.
The NY Times story this morning carried a soft headline: “An ailing Killebrew Simply Says Farewell!”
Jim Kaat, a long-time teammate of Harmon’s and also a Yankee broadcaster is quoted this morning in the NY Daily News: “He's a great man, a great teammate and a guy who was the face of the Twins' franchise. I think he's the main reason why the Twins have had the reputation of being a gentlemanly organization."
Tony Oliva, another great former Twins ballplayer, said it, with his strong Cuban accent, in a very poignant way: “Everybody knows him because he was the home-run king. I know him better, and I think he was a better person than ballplayer. Killer would always go out of his way to help somebody else.”
The current Twins General Manager, Bill Smith, said: “Everyone he’s ever met has a Harmon Killebrew story and they’re all telling those stories today.”
I suppose that’s true. I have my own little story.
I met Harmon in a personal way only once. It was back in 1980 (I think) when Anne and I were in Paris and browsing through the beautiful shops on rue de Faubourg St. Honoré. We were standing in a remarkable china and crystal shop, waiting for the elevator to take us up to the second floor. When the cabinet arrived and slid open its doors, Harmon Killebrew and his wife quietly stepped out. I took a deep, surprised breath and, as is quite usual for me, I couldn’t keep silent. I burst out with something, telling him in a stumbling, stuttering way how thrilling it was to encounter him like this.
Harmon, as always, was completely a gentleman and shook hands with both of us and chatted for a few moments about Paris, the weather and the lovely shop we were in.
When he walked on, I was as giddy as a child.
“There,” I said to my wife, “is a great man!”
I said exactly the same thing last night when I heard Harmon’s statement and official goodbye to baseball and to all his fans. What a gentle way to slip easily and gracefully into the good night! How touched I was by this statement. How I hope I can be so courageous myself.
Sleep well, dear Harmon, and be at peace throughout eternity!
"They are the only dead who did not love."
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