Harmon Killebrew passed away this week, after a long battle with esophageal cancer. Many writers have already weighed in on his career and life, but for whatever reason he’s always stuck out in my mind. It's funny to say that for a player I've never seen play (not even a highlight) and has absolutely to affiliation with any team I root for. I think it was a baseball card that was found in a giant shoe box of my dad’s old cards. I don’t think it was valuable, most of his cards were mid-1960’s Topps and a mint Killebrew is only a few bucks on EBay, but all that black ink on the back was exciting. And I’m not sure if I could come up with a better name for a slugging third baseman. Harmon Killebrew. He just sounded like he destroyed baseballs. Even after the steroid era, Killebrew is still 11th overall in home runs and he can thank steroid testing for keeping him there. Manny Ramirez was only 18 behind him, and if not for his 50 game suspension a couple years ago and his second suspension this year, Killebrew would almost certainly be bumped to 12th by now.
In many ways, Killebrew was one of the first modern sluggers. He struck out a lot for the era (20%, with a single season career high of 25%), which led to a fairly low career batting average of .256. But he also took an awful lot of walks, leading to his very solid OBP of .376. When you consider the fact that he played most of his career in the era of the 15” tall mound, when top pitchers such as Bob Gibson put up ERAs in the 1’s (1.12 for Gibson in 1968), Killebrew’s offensive production, particularly his .509 slugging percentage, is that much more impressive.
(photo credit: cthoyes)