I'm too young to have seen him play, but Harmon Killebrew was one of my dad's favorites.
Sometime in the mid 80s, (1985, I think) We lived in Florida. . my dad flew out to visit my brothers and I, and took us to a bunch of Spring training games. At that age we were all about getting player's autographs. The Twins were playing the Expos in St. Pete., at Al Lang stadium. Among the many forgetable autogarphs of scrubs, and Joe Peluca's, who we'd often look at the name later and ask, "whos that?", I also remember we were lucky enough to get the great Tim Raines and Andre Dawson’s autographs that day, who played for the Expos.
Moments before the game was about to start, seated about a half dozen rows below us, right above the 3rd base side, dugout, my dad spotted the retired, and former baseball great Harmon Killebrew. My dad told my younger brother and I to get his autograph. I remember my brother Milt said. .who’s that? That’s just a regular old bald guy with sunglasses and a hat. He’s not a baseball player.
But with my dad’s coaxing, my brother and I sheepishly walked down there and tapped this old guy on the shoulder. - I said, “Hi. My dad says you’re one of the greatest baseball players ever to play. Can we have your autograph?” - then stretched out a ball and pen.
I remember he took off his sunglasses and looked up at us and smiled. He not only signed our ball, but also asked us what grade we were in. Then he asked if we played baseball, to which we said yes .. then he asked what positions we play on our little league teams . . He even examined our ball looking at the other names on it and saying things like, "Oh, you have Ozzie Smith's autograph? You should hold on to that one." - just a really nice guy and never at all felt like we were bothering him. (of course we still had no idea who he was) But he then asked us, "which one’s your dad?" – we pointed at my dad afew rows up. And then the three of us hiked back up so Mr. Killebrew could also shake my dad’s hand. – and the hand of my older brother Mike’s hand who was too cool to seek after autographs. I remember my dad talked about that, all day.
Years later in the early 1990’s when my dad frequented card shows and collected memorabilia, he’d always let me know if Harmon Killebrew was at the show and if he was, he’d always stand in line for him, and have him sign something. Again he would always say what a nice guy he was. While it seemed most players and former players would rush people through the line and sometimes not even look up, Mr. Killebrew would spend the time talking to his fans. For my dad, whos generation revolved around baseball and the love of the game, i know my dad appreciated that.
I could always tell how disappointed my dad was to find certain players he admired were jerks. – Cooperstown great, Reggie Jackson was one of these jerks. He was the king of the jerks, as far as my dad was concerned. It didnt matter how many times he stood in his line throughout the years, Reggie would always disapoint.
Coincidentally, Reggie once said this; "If Harmon Killebrew isn't the league's best player, I've never seen one. He's one of the greatest of all time.”
Today, Major league baseball lost one of it's iconic "good guys." and ambassador to the sport. Its been long rumored and now confirmed that the artist who developed the long used Major League baseball logo secretively used Harmon Killebrew's batting stance as the model. I think those who admired him on and off the field would agree they couldn't have used a better model for what a baseballplayer and man of the game should be.
I have no idea what ever happened to that autograph ball he signed for us that day. But I will always remember the impression he made on my dad, who's boyhood heroes were Dimaggio, and Mantle, but admired more than just a great player in Harmon Killebrew.
- m a r k