Monday, June 29, 2009

Happy Birthday...

Harmon Killebrew!

Killer turns 73 today, and still looks like he could hit a baseball about 500 feet.

I never saw Killebrew play, but I grew up hearing stories, and I've gotten to meet him in person several times at fanfest types of things. He's always come off as one of the true good guys. Maybe too good and soft-spoken for his own good; if he'd acted out a little, maybe more people would've remembered him.

Killebrew has the second-lowest batting average of any position player in the Hall of Fame (excluding those inducted as managers), at .256, three points ahead of Ray Schalk (who (a) was a catcher and (b) has no business in the Hall). He has the fifth-most HR, but he's not in the top 20 in OBP, SLG, R or RBI. That's the sixties for you; neutralized by baseball-reference to an environment where the average team scores 770 runs per season (which is about where the current AL is), his line is a much more HOF-like .270/.393/.535, and with 620 rather than 573 HR.

Five Twins have ever led the league (or tied for the lead) in home runs, and Harmon Killebrew is all five of them. Two Senators ever led the AL in home runs, and Killer was one of them, a 23 year old in 1959, in his first full season, and really his only full season with the Senators (he only got into 124 games in 1960, and they were in Minneapolis the following April).

Most people will tell you that Killebrew was the model for the batter in the MLB logo. And it looks a lot like Killebrew's stance and profile -- in particular, the figure holds his hands low and close to his shoulder as the pitch comes in, kind of a Killebrew trademark. But MLB and the logo's creator have flatly denied that the logo was based on Killer or on anyone else in particular.

Killebrew made appearances with the Senators as early as age 17. This was because his large contract for the time (for a whopping $50,000) triggered baseball's short-lived Bonus Rule: for a few periods from 1947 until the amateur draft kicked in in 1965, amateurs who signed for more than a certain amount (at least initially, $4,000) had to be kept on the 40-man roster for two full seasons. From his age-18 season through his age-22 season, Killebrew played 113 games in the majors and posted an 85 OPS+.

Killebrew, helped to a large extent by his magnificent name, has probably the best-looking autograph I've ever seen.

Know how people complained that the HR Derby Era (posthumously renamed the steroid era) was going to change everything, because 500 HR always meant automatic induction to the Hall, and now it wouldn't anymore? Well, consider that Killebrew retired relatively recently (1975), and at that time, his 573 homers put him second all-time to Babe Ruth (and thus first among all right-handed hitters) in the history of the American League...and it still took him four years of eligibility to get in. Nothing about how it "used to be" is ever as simple as people think.

1 comment:

  1. Happy Birthday, Killer. What a mean-sounding nickname for such a nice man! I agree on his signature. One of the few I can actually make out all the letters on!