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 that 500 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."