Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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The weekend when Harmon was at his strongest

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: June 4, 2013 - 12:37 PM

The tradition is to wait for round numbers before celebrating the anniversary of a monumental event. For some reason, the local sporting public was made aware that Monday was the 46th anniversary of Harmon Killebrew's home run that was the first to travel into the second deck at Met Stadium.

Killebrew hit a three-run home run in the fourth inning off the California Angels' Lew Burdette on June 3, 1967. The Twins needed that blast to hold off the Angels 8-6.

This is the home run that is still celebrated with a marker at the Mall of America. The truth is, Harmon long contended that the second-inning home run that he hit off Jack Sanford a day later was hit longer and harder. That home run was hit farther into left-center field and smacked off the facade to the second deck.

Dan Barreiro wrote a Star Tribune column on Harmon a number of years ago and The Killer said:

"The funny thing about it is that if you ask Lew about that now, he'll tell you there was a 40 mile per hour wind. Actually, it was a calm day.''

Tom Mee, the Twins' public relations director, had written a few sentences for PA announcer Bob Casey to use when Harmon came to the plate for the first time on June 4 in what became an 8-7 Twins' victory.

"Just as Bob Casey was talking about the first one I hit, I hit one off Sanford that was actually hit harder,'' Killebrew told Barreiro.

I talked to Harmon about those back-to-back blasts a few times over the years and he would say the same thing. I found it fascinating that even the most-powerful of hitters, as was Killebrew, would have a period of a few days in their careers that they were stronger and on pitches more than at any time.

Harmon agreed there were a few of those periods in his Hall of Fame career, when he felt so dang good, that there was no limit to his strength and ability to smash a baseball.

There was a debate at the time over the distance of Harmon's home run. A geometry expert had given Mee a chart for measuring home runs from the plate to the point of the impact at Met Stadium -- whether it was into the left-field seats, off the backdrop in center field, or off the scoreboard, into the bullpens or the bleachers in right field.

Mee estimated where the first blast had landed, took out of his chart, took out his protractor and ruled that Harmon's homer had traveled 430 feet before landing in the second deck.

This brought a protest from the Robertson brothers: Sherry, Billy and Jimmy, all Twins' vice presidents. Mee was persuaded to include the 70 feet in altitude to make it 500 feet, and then throw in another 20 feet if it hadn't landed in a structure.

So, the lore became that Harmon's home run was a 520-footer.

As Casey was offering this information at the start of the second inning on Sunday, Killebrew hit the first pitch from Sanford off the facade in deep left-center. This time, the chart said the ball traveled 434 feet. The revised estimate was 550 feet, based on the fact this home run was reaching its apex when it hit the facade, rather than descending as was the second-decker off Burdette.

"I've given up longer ones,'' Burdette said after the Saturday game. "Orlando Cepeda bounced one against the outer fence in Milwaukee, which had to be over 500 feet. Harmon hit a knuckleball, which started too high ... and it got highter.''

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