MINNEAPOLIS -- It is one of life's ironies that a man nicknamed "Killer" was actually one of the gentle giants of Mayor League Baseball. Harmon Killebrew died of esophageal cancer on Monday at 74.
Although his 570-plus home runs drove him into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, it is his 2006 induction into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame that characterizes the man his friends and fans knew.
1991 World Series Champion pitcher and Saint Paul native Jack Morris broke down in tears Monday afternoon, recalling his predecessor in a Twins uniform.
"We lost a hero. The one thing that hits home the most with Harmon is his strength, not as a player, but as a person, and his kindness and the strength in his kindness. To me, he was a real man," choked out Morris.
Killebrew touched many Minnesotans in the same way. Kevin Thoresen of Eden Prairie, founder and Executive Director of Miracle League Minnesota, was amazed at Killebrew's "connected" with charities. The Miracle League makes it possible for children with handicaps to play baseball. Killebrew came to a ground breaking for a new Miracle League field in Blaine.
"And it was him being there, not more than 5 minutes, and he said to me, he came up to me and said 'I want to personally be more involved with this and true to his word, he has been all along both locally and nationally," said Thoresen.
"He spent his time graciously with all of us and he treated everyone the same and that was absolutely the treasure," recalled Thoresen.
Killebrew co-founded the Danny Thompson Golf Tournament to honor a former player. It raised millions of dollars for Leukemia research. Beginning in 1991, he was the spokesperson for the World Children's Baseball Fair. The charity foundation that bears his name was created by Killebrew and his wife, Nita. And then there was the Humanitarian Hall of Fame induction, which clearly touched the man called "killer."
"I think this puts the icing on the cake. I can't think of anything else that is left, so, I am going to just enjoy it and I am happy to be here," said Killebrew in 2006.
Killebrew passed away at his home in Arizona with his family at his bedside.
(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)