Sid Hartman: Allison, Killebrew were two of a kind

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 17, 2011 - 10:58 AM

Bob Allison passed away too early due to illness, and now his friend Harmon Killebrew faces his final days.

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Left to right, Billy Martin, Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Tony Oliva

I have covered the Twins from Day 1 of their arrival, and I can still see it now in Met Stadium: The two lockers closest to the shower belonged to Harmon Killebrew and his closest friend on the team, Bob Allison.

The two were inseparable, on and off the baseball field.

They were the two big stars who came with Calvin Griffith and company when the Washington Senators moved here in 1961.

It is sad to see Killebrew come down with a terrible disease years after he lost his friend to illness. Allison, a three-time All-Star who hit 256 career home runs, died at age 60 after becoming ill when he was 53. He suffered from a neurological disease called olivopontocerebellar atrophy (OPCA).

Allison battled this terrible disease for eight years, eventually losing his ability to walk, talk and feed himself. He died of complications from the disease in April 1995 at his Arizona home.

Killebrew is now suffering a similar fate, having been struck with another terrible disease, esophageal cancer. He announced he had the disease in December; it caused him to miss a good portion of spring training, and he couldn't come to Target Field for Opening Day, either.

Killebrew, 74, announced Friday that he no longer will be treated for the cancer and that he was entering a hospice.

Both Killebrew and Allison had many memorable moments during their great years with the Twins. I remember in particular one moment from each one: Killebrew's 1965 home run against the New York Yankees at Met Stadium that helped the Twins clinch the pennant, and Allison's sensational catch in left field against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of that 1965 World Series.

Praises Killebrew

Julio Becquer, who played with Killebrew and Allison with both the Senators and Twins, can't understand what happened to both.

"It's almost unbelievable. I mean the way you look at this, especially Allison," said Becquer, now 79. "I just couldn't believe it. It was so clear to see a specimen of man, I mean Bob was ... I mean, just so much power. They were really alive.

"It's hard to describe these guys. They were the prototype of an athlete. Harmon was not quite as big as Bob, was but he was really, really put together. Both were really well put together."

The minute that Becquer, a local resident, heard of Killebrew's condition, he headed to the Phoenix area to visit his ailing friend.

Becquer, a pinch hitter, outfielder and first baseman, made his major league debut with the Senators in 1955, one year after Killebrew's rookie year. They played together until the team moved to Minnesota. Becquer was taken in the expansion draft by the Angels in December 1960 but returned to the Twins in June 1961.

While Becquer assumes every baseball fan knows of Killebrew's legendary power, his teammates and friends had the opportunity to be familiar with one great person on and off the field.

"He fit well. ... He was a very likeable young man," Becquer said of Killebrew, who made his major league debut six days short of his 18th birthday. "Everybody liked Harmon. Even when he became Numero Uno, it still was Harmon.

"He still was approachable. He never changed. He was always the same individual, never tried to outdo anybody or anything like that. I love the guy. The guy's a great, great human being. The guy is a great guy."

Becquer noted that Killebrew never got too high or too low. "Everything was so even-keel with Harmon," he said. "You couldn't tell any time if he striked out or hit a home run, he always had that smile. You can't explain it. He was a very natural individual."

About Killebrew as a player, Becquer said: "He was the third baseman and still he had tremendous power. He was adequate as a third baseman. But you could tell the kind of hitter he was, especially the way he hit the ball. He would hit the ball with tremendous power."

Becquer said 400-foot home runs were the norm for Killebrew, who finished his career with 573 homers.

"He hit them all over the place," Becquer said. "There's not one you remember because he hit so many, you can't really concentrate on just one. ... He hit quite a few that were just tape-measures."

Jottings

• In recent years, the NFL had a program called the G3 where the league contributed funds of up to $150 million for the construction of a stadium. The program is no longer in place, but even so, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is confident the league will revive the program and will contribute money towards the construction of a Vikings stadium.

• Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi said one thing his department can brag about is that 71 percent of the university's athletes in the most recent graduating class graduated. Maturi said it was the school's highest percentage of graduates in recent years.

• One glaring weakness on the Gophers football team last year was its defensive line, so it's encouraging when new coach Jerry Kill is quoted as saying, "On the defensive side, I can't name one person who stood out in spring practice. But I thought the defensive line was not very good at the beginning -- matter of fact, I didn't think they were very good at all -- but how much they improved in a 15-day period was very good. I feel like hopefully we can build on that, because they got much better as the spring went on." ... Andre McDonald, the junior wide receiver out of Hopkins High School who says he will play for the Gophers, is ranked 208th nationally among the nation's 2012 recruiting class by Rivals.com. A four-star recruit, McDonald caught 64 passes for 1,144 yards and 19 touchdowns for the Royals last year. Even though McDonald said he will play here, Ohio State was in his home recently, and the Buckeyes figure to continue to recruit him.

• Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher gives former Wild All-Star goaltender Dwayne Roloson big credit for Tampa Bay's surprise run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. "He's unbelievable," Fletcher said of the 41-year-old. "I know the fans know about him here in the Twin Cities, but he had a great run in Edmonton, as well. He battled some injuries a little bit ago but he seems healthy now. ... He's played great."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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