1985: Harmon tries to hit one across the Mississippi

  • Article by: MICHAEL DORSHER
  • Updated: May 17, 2011 - 11:20 PM

Harmon Killebrew didn't quite know what he was getting into when he was asked to make a publicity appearance as part of baseball's All-Star Game festivities.

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Harmon Killebrew on Boom Island (1985)

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(In 1985, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire journalism professor Michael Dorsher was the bureau chief for United Press International in the Twin Cities. The All-Star Game was played in Minnesota that year, just as it had been 20 years earlier. Dorsher wrote this story about one of the events that took place during the All-Star festivities, involving Harmon Killebrew and legendary Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax, who were the game's honorary captains)

When the All-Star Game last came to Minnesota in 1965, Harmon Killebrew slugged a 411-foot two-run home run.

On Monday, the day before the All-Star Game returns to Minneapolis, Killebrew spent part of the morning in a futile attempt to hit a baseball 600 feet across the Mississippi River.

With more than 1,000 fans pressing too closely to let a pitcher serve up meaty fastballs, Killebrew had to toss the balls up and hit them like fungoes.

Looking like a duffer confronted with the world's largest water hazard, he plunked one ball after another into the muddy Mississippi, none of them landing more than halfway across.

''That was kind of a disappointing experience,'' Killebrew said later.

He had come to Boom Island dressed in a new red, white and blue Twins uniform with his retired No. 3 on the back. He was accompanied by Sandy Koufax, the other All-Star honorary captain and the man who beat the Twins in the seventh game of the 1965 World Series after just two days rest.

''They told us they just wanted to take some pictures of us in front of the Minneapolis skyline,'' said Killebrew, apparently unaware of the buildup given the event. ''We didn't know anything about hitting the ball across the river until we were driving up to the place. Then there were about 3,000 fans and they all wanted autographs. It was a bad deal.''

The fans had come to see the player who hit 573 home runs over 22 seasons -- plus three home runs in 11 All-Star games. Killebrew was elected to the Hall of Fame last year. He tied for the lead in the American League in home runs six times during his career

''I've been watching him since I was a kid, but I've never been this close to him,'' said Barb Guille who had four children in tow. ''I remember a grand slam he hit when I was at the game on Memorial Day (1971).''

The woman standing next to her, Vickie Gangness, remembered being at the park June 3, 1967, when Killebrew belted the only home run to reach Metropolitan Stadium's left field upper deck, a shot of 522 feet.

Killebrew, now 48 and a television commentator for Twins games, looks about the same today as he did midway through his career, only his temples are a little more grey. Bald and stubby, he was a guy arm-chair managers and housewives could relate to.

Even in the aftermath of Monday's debacle, Killebrew appreciated that. As he stopped to satisfy autograph seekers after the opening All-Star Game press conference, a reporter asked why he remained so beloved.

''Gee, I don't know,'' he said. ''But it sure is nice.''

Then he left to play in a charity golf tournament.

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