He wasn't necessarily flashy, though his majestic home runs were a thing of beauty. But the 6-foot, 195-pound Killebrew, who didn't fit the physical mode that we've come to expect from baseball players in today's game, was the type of player you think of when you call a player in today's game a throwback.
Killebrew went to work every day, and he did his job to the best of his ability. His Hall of Fame resume speaks volumes about that ability, too. Nicknamed "Killer," Killebrew punished baseballs as one of the best sluggers of all time. When his career finally came to an end in 1975, Killebrew had tallied 573 home runs and 1,584 RBIs.
He used his massive build — Mel Stottlemyre likened Killebrew to a tank — to hammer titanic blasts across the American League in his 22 seasons with the Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984, the greatest honor a baseball player can receive.
Killebrew swung a loud bat at the plate, but away from the diamond, he was a quiet man. His reserved nature was never viewed in a negative light, though. Quite the contrary, actually.
He is revered as a legend in Minnesota, where he spent the bulk of his historic career. That status is the product of the man just as much as it was a product of the baseball player. Killebrew's kindness as a player carried over into his retirement. He and his wife Nita founded the Harmon Killebrew Foundation, Ltd. in 1998 to help raise money for his favorite charities.
That kind of gentle kindness and thoughtfulness made him a living legend in Minnesota. That's also the same reason there was so much sadness when Killebrew revealed in 2010 that he had been diagnosed with cancer.
Even in his dying days, Killebrew remained devoted to helping where he could. In a statement released just a few days before his death, Killebrew offered this.
"I have spent the past decade of my life promoting hospice care and educating people on its benefits," he said in a touching statement. "I am very comfortable taking this next step and experiencing the compassionate care that hospice provides."
The next step came on May 17, 2011. Killebrew passed away, and the game of baseball lost a legend.The outpouring of emotion in the days following his death spoke volumes about the kind of baseball player, teammate and man he truly was.
"There are so many Harmon Killebrew stories that are all positive," former teammate Bert Blyleven told ESPN.com in the days following Killebrew's death. "That's what I'll miss most about Harmon. Not his playing but his personality and the way he treated people."
By all accounts, Killebrew was everything you wanted in a baseball player, but it's incredibly apparent that baseball was just part of the stocky slugger's legend. One of the great compliments you can pay him is that he was a tremendous baseball player, but it's not the greatest.
Harmon Killebrew was immortalized in Cooperstown as one of the game's legends, but his repuation as a Hall of Fame man is what will preserve Killebrew's legend forever.