Disgusted, Killebrew takes a swing at drug cheats

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 23, 2009 - 7:56 AM
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Harmon Killebrew was the best of the Twins’ power hitters in the franchise’s early seasons in Minnesota. Killebrew tied Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski for the AL homer title in 1967 with 44.

Photo: William Seaman, Minneapolis Star 1967

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Manny Ramirez was back in the Los Angeles Dodgers' lineup on July 3 after a 50-game suspension for being a drug cheat. On Wednesday night, he hit his fifth home run since his return. He is now at 538 for his career and has surpassed Mickey Mantle for No. 15 on the all-time home run list.

"To see his name above Mantle's on the list ... that's a shame," Harmon Killebrew said.

Killebrew was No. 5 on the all-time list, one behind Frank Robinson, when he retired with 573 home runs after the 1975 season.

He held that position for 26 years, before being passed in this decade by Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. Alex Rodriguez hit No. 572 on Sunday and soon will drop Killebrew to 10th in career home runs.

Or, as a reporter asked this week at the start of a phone conversation, "Does it bother you that another steroid/drug cheat is ready to go past you on the all-time list?"

Harmon paused and said: "I think it would bother anybody, but what can you do? Nobody is really doing anything to address what steroids did to the game, what it did to the game's records.

"As far as I'm concerned, Hank Aaron is the all-time home run champ, and Roger Maris should still have the [single-season] record at 61, but Barry Bonds is the name you see in the record book."

The great slugger of the Twins paused again and said: "You wonder if it's worth it to have a record book?"

Throw in A-Rod and there's one player among the five that have pushed Killebrew down the list not tied to steroids: Griffey Jr.

"I like to hope that Junior was not among them," Harmon said. "I feel like he's not. And Jim Thome ... I hope he's not. But how can you know?

"That's why I say, 'Throw the names out there.' I would think the players who were clean should be telling the union to make the list pubic."

Killebrew was referring to the list of 103 big-league players rumored to have failed the steroids screening that took place in 2003. This astoundingly high number surpassed a 5 percent threshold and allowed the commissioner's office to institute testing for performance enhancers.

"To have the names piddling out there is ridiculous," Killebrew said. "That's the only way to clear the air and really put this stuff behind baseball."

The promised confidentiality to players involved in the 2003 testing has been breached with the leaks that A-Rod and Sosa came up positive for steroids.

Presumably, Killebrew is right and names from the list will continue to come piddling out. In the meantime, the public and the press and the peers won't know if it's safe to look at Griffey Jr. and Thome as heroic home run hitters, or Pudge Rodriguez, as an all-time great catcher, until all 103 names have been revealed.

"You don't know," Killebrew said. "Look at Rafael Palmeiro. He didn't seem to fit the profile. He wasn't a huge, muscular guy. But he got caught even after he already had all the stats and he knew they were testing."

Killebrew figures to lose two more places on the all-time list by the middle of next season. Thome has 557 and at 38 continues to hit bombs for the Chicago White Sox. Ramirez, 37, also will reach 574, unless he's stupid enough to test positive again -- and excess stupidity is always a possibility with Manny.

Harmon will travel from home in Arizona to Cooperstown, N.Y., today for this weekend's Hall of Fame festivities. Jim Rice, Rickey Henderson and Joe Gordon will be inducted. Rice predates the steroids era and Henderson isn't going in as a power hitter. Gordon was an outstanding defensive specialist.

"We always have a conversation with the commissioner [Bud Selig] when we're there," Killebrew said. "He admits it. As far as the steroids guys and their records, he doesn't know what to do.

"Do you throw out Sosa's records and A-Rod's records because their names are out, and then keep the records of other guys on the list who didn't have their names leaked?"

Killebrew chuckled and said that Jim Bunning, former Detroit Tigers star and now U.S. senator from Kentucky, is the Hall of Famer most likely to go after Selig during the Cooperstown weekend.

"Jim says, 'Throw out all the steroid guys' records; release all the names, and the next star you catch ... suspend him for life,'" Killebrew said. "Bunning really gets worked up."

Patrick Reusse can be heard 5:30-9 a.m. weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. preusse@startribune.com

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