Harmon Killebrew Faces Down Cancer Like He Did Opposing Pitchers
Written by Jim Rednour
Saturday, 22 January 2011
After 22 years of never backing down at the plate,
despite having pitchers like Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax dial up their meanest
fast balls, nastiest sliders, and scariest curve balls in an effort to defeat
him…it’s no surprise that500 Home Run Club® member Harmon Killebrew is confidently preparing for a fight with perhaps the toughest adversary he’s ever faced: esophageal cancer.
The Minnesota Twins community and baseball world recently
heard that Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew has been diagnosed with
esophageal cancer when the 74-year-old Killebrew released a statement saying he
expects to make a full recovery from the "very serious" condition.
"With my wife, Nita, by my side, I have begun
preparing for what is perhaps the most difficult battle of my life,"
Killebrew said. "While my condition is very serious, I have confidence in
my doctors and the medical staff (at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester) and I
anticipate a full recovery.”
Killebrew had a 22-year major league career and played
all but his final season with the same franchise. He broke in with the
Washington Senators in 1954 as an 18-year-old and had established himself as a
regular by the time the franchise moved to Minnesota for the 1961 season. He led the American League in home runs six times and was
named MVP in 1969. He played in all 162 games that year, hitting .276 with 49
homers, 140 RBI, 145 walks (to just 84 strikeouts), a .427 on-base percentage
and a .584 slugging percentage.
Killebrew hit 573 home runs and made 11 All-Star
appearances during his 22-year career spent mostly with the Washington Senators
and Twins. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984 and was fifth on the
career home run list when he retired in 1975 after one season with the Kansas
City Royals. Killebrew currently ranks 11th on the homer list, and his
eight seasons with 40 or more homers still is tied for second in league history
to Babe Ruth.
He now makes his home in Arizona, but has maintained a
regular presence with the Twins for years. During his playing days the congenial heavy hitter known
amiably as “Killer” became one of the most beloved players in Twins history, as
much for his gentle and approachable nature off the field as for the towering
home runs he hit.
Twins designated hitter Jim Thome passed Killebrew on the
career home run list in August, belting two at brand new Target Field. After the feat, Killebrew issued a
gracious congratulatory message to Thome.
"I speak very highly of Jim Thome," Killebrew said in
September. "Not only is he a great player, but he's a great individual. I
think he was a little apprehensive about passing me up. I said, 'Jim, I passed
a lot of guys up myself along the way. I hope you hit 100 more.'"
Killebrew's No. 3 jersey is retired, and he made several
appearances at the Twins' new outdoor ballpark last season, including during
their playoff series against the Yankees.
He is one of the biggest draws at the team's annual Twins Fest, a fan
festival in January that serves as a buildup to spring training.
"I thank everyone for their outpouring of prayers,
compassion and concern," he said. "Nita and I ask for privacy during
this difficult journey."