I have two pretty good Harmon Killebrew stories that feel right to share of the day of his Target Field memorial service..
Harmon was on his second stint as a Twins broadcaster during the years when I covered the team. As he was until his death last week, Harmon was a gentle, genial presence who treated young baseball writers, veteran baseball players and restaurant waitstaff with the same respectful demeanor. But you've heard enough of those platitudes.
One night, a copy editor friend of mine and I went to a bar after work. I must have been covering the game; the copy editor was working in the office. Harmon was at the bar and left his group to join us for a couple of minutes. If my memory is correct, I had already pointed out that Harmon Killebrew was over on the other side of the room.
My friend sent me an email the other day: "I still tell the story of the night he bought drinks for you and me, and shook my hand, and that I did not know who he was until you told me. Even though I had cropped ... his mug shot at least 100 times. He was darling."
The thing I remembered, and that my friend confirmed, was that he introduced himself as "Harm."
"He definitely introduced himself as 'Harm,' and he mumbled it under his breath besides. I think he was relieved not to be recognized and enjoyed the moment of anonymity. He only cared that we were friends."
That memory is worth more to me than 573 home runs.
The other story is about a group of my rowdy baseball friends. And it debunks a Twin Cities urban myth.
My friend Julian Loscalzo organizes minor-league baseball trips and, this year, he's running a bus trip to Cooperstown for Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame induction.
Back when Harmon was inducted in 1984, Loscalzo (then doing business as Julian Empson) and a group of friends decided that mementos from old Met Stadium should be donated to the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in conjunction with the event. The group, which protested the building of the Metrodome loudly and creatively, had made enough peace with the outcome that its members were able to get permission from the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission to go into the abandoned Met and see what they could take.
"By then, we had stopped our reign of being sports terrorists," Loscalzo said this morning.
The curator of the Hall of Fame at the time, Ted Spencer, gave them a shopping list of sorts: Some grandstands seats, a dugout telephone, a batting helmet rack ... the seat where Killebrew's 500-foot-plus home run from 1967 landed.
As Doug Grow reported in a 1984 column for the Star Tribune: "...the Killebrew seat had been painted over for the Vikings' last season outdoors, meaning it had not been stolen by stadium sackers."
Soon after, once the proper tools were procured, the section of bench seats was in possession of the Save the Met guys. After they figured out it was too bulky to fit on their bus to Cooperstown, a friend in the trucking business volunteered to haul the Met Stadium artifacts to Cooperstown.
Spencer told Grow: "Usually it's the owners of the ballpark or the teams that get in touch with us about things like this. This is a unique group."
For a while, the seats were part of an exhibit at Cooperstown:
The seats are real; the plaque isn't. Loscalzo and his crew were sure they had the right seats, among other reasons, because the holes for the screws that held the original plaque were still visible.
Later, the seats ended up in the Hall's theater, right below a reproduction of the old Comiskey Park scoreboard.
A few years later, Loscalzo was invited to an event in Bloomington that was a tribute to the Met. Killebrew was there and the Save the Met guys introduced themselves.
"Harmon was very kind when we told him and told us, 'That's very nice,' " Loscalzo recalled. "But you could also see that he was thinking, 'Those guys took seats out to the Hall of Fame. Who are these guys?' But he came to one of our Hot Stove banquets in the 1990s and I remember that he asked for the guy who was running the thing. He said something like, 'I remember what you told me and when I went to the Hall, I looked. Those seats were there. Thanks.'
"It was classic Harmon."
So when somebody tells you that the red seat hanging at the Mall of America is the seat where Harmon's 1967 home run hit, tell 'em you know better.
And, if you want to see the seats for yourself, you can go to Cooperstown with Julian and his group in July.