When Jim Thome homered in his first at-bat last July 3 against Tampa Bay, it tied him with Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew for 10th on the all-time list. When Thome went deep again in his second at-bat, thus moving past the former Minnesota Twins and Washington Senators great, he got a gift.
Killebrew suddenly appeared on the big screen at sparkling Target Field to deliver a congratulatory note to Thome. When it was over, the ovation for Killebrew far surpassed those for the current Twins slugger, and Thome knew why.
"That's something that will go down in my book as one of the better moments in my career," Thome said. "He's a legend and a legendary person, too. That's what makes it even better."
Search far and wide and you won't find someone who can disagree with Thome's assessment of Killebrew, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 74. With his passing, the game lost a true gentleman, a power hitter with few equals and someone who showed incredible grace amid a PED-induced onslaught on his numbers, and of those who played alongside him, all while remaining staunchly opposed to what he called "a cloud over the game."
Killebrew slugged 573 home runs, many of them during the rise of the pitchers in the mid- to late-1960s. When he hammered 44 in 1967, winning the fourth of five American League home run crowns, only three others even surpassed 25. When he hit 49 in 1964, nobody else in the AL even reached 40. Nobody hit more home runs in the 1960s, and when Killebrew retired in 1975, only one player — Babe Ruth — had more home runs in AL history.
While toiling in a market and for a team that did not receive much national attention, the man known as "Killer" established a reputation as a genteel figure who continued to gain respect long after his playing days were done. Although considered a soft-spoken man, Killebrew's words on steroids, which enabled many of the men who passed him on the home run list to reach such heights, had an impact.
"Baseball is made up of statistics, as you know, and they’re completely changed now," Killebrew said in an interview in 2009. "And that’s a sad thing. I mean it's fine, people say to me, 'Don't you feel bad when guys pass you up?' And I say, 'Well, I passed up a lot of guys myself along the way. That's the way baseball is.' But to have it done in not a very proper way [isn't right], I think all the [former] players have that feeling."
Those words, and many more like them, hold plenty of weight. Not only are they coming from a guy who made home run hitting an art form, but from a man who was as respected as anyone out there.
Whether hammering home runs, shedding light on those who were aided in the process, or congratulating others on historic blasts, Killebrew was an aficionado on the topic. For that, and so much more, he will be missed.
Powered by WordPress.com VIP