Souhan: An era passes with a graceful giant

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 18, 2011 - 10:29 AM

Call him an Everyman. Call him a gentleman. But Harmon Killebrew lived up to the lofty expectations thrust on stars in baseball's golden age.

Harmon Killebrew, right, posed with baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn in Cooperstown, N.Y., after Killebrew was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Aug. 12, 1984.

Think of the phrases we use to praise modern-day athletes. They possess "killer instinct." They "stick the dagger" into the opponent. They display "swagger" and "athletic arrogance."

When Harmon Killebrew passed away in Arizona on Tuesday, the sporting world may have lost its foremost gentleman. The greatest Twin did not require false machismo to become one of the greatest home-run hitters in baseball history. Harmon Killebrew did require pressure to exhibit grace.

Will we ever encounter his kind again?

Killebrew's era predated steroid scandals and sporting paparazzi. When he played, players often lived in middle-class neighborhoods. Even if a current player possessed Killebrew's Everyman attitude, he would be distanced from much of society by the invisible fencing of wealth and fame.

Naivete and nostalgia are often weaknesses. In remembrance of Killebrew, allow those of us who grew up watching him and his peers a moment of sepia-toned remembrance.

I spent part of my youth living near Baltimore. One of my strongest memories is of a midseason game the Twins played against the Orioles.

Baltimore third baseman Brooks Robinson was my boyhood idol, in part because of his fielding brilliance, in part because he looked so average. Brooksie, with his skinny arms and hangdog face, could have been your middle-age neighbor, had your middle-age neighbor been granted superhuman hand-eye coordination by a higher power.

A line drive would head down the third-base line, and Robinson's hands would move faster than a Times Square con artist's, and suddenly the ball would be bouncing into Boog Powell's outstretched glove for another improbable out, and you got the feeling that as soon as the game ended, Robinson would resume mowing his lawn and shopping for a toupee.

One night, Robinson and the Orioles faced the Twins at old Memorial Stadium. When Robinson left the field with his team, he was replaced at third by a player who looked less likely to become a Hall of Fame ballplayer -- a short, thick, balding player, who looked like a neighborhood butcher playing for the local slow-pitch softball team.

Then Killebrew plodded to the plate, launched a home run deep into the left-field bleachers, dropped his bat, watched the ball fly and started his slow navigation around the bases.

"Oh, he would watch the ball," Tony Oliva said. "He would hit it so far, so high, and he would stand there and watch it.

"Pitchers would throw at him, hit him, for doing that, but I never saw him react. He would just take first base like nothing happened."

I did not grow up in Minnesota following Killebrew, but I know what it is like to have given my young heart to a great ballplayer when baseball was king, when we erected pedestals for our favorite ballplayers and left them there for eternity.

While it may seem inelegant to compare deaths, I believe that it hurts us more when we lose a great baseball player than when we lose other athletes.

Great baseball players, especially in Killebrew's prime, were not occasional visitors to our homes. They were uncles, cousins, friends.

They were there every day in the morning paper. They were on television more often than any other athletes. They were the people you followed late at night, with a transistor radio tucked under your pillow, turned down just far enough that your parents could pretend you were sleeping.

Someday, another player may replace Killebrew as the greatest Twin of all time. It is unlikely that another player will ever become so universally beloved and admired.

We called him "the Killer," but that nickname matched the man only when a fastball was headed toward home plate. In life, he was the most gracious of the all-time greats, the most likely to leave someone he just met feeling privileged to shake his hand.

Jeff Idelson, the president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, once told me that the two Hall of Famers who most enthusiastically embraced their roles as icons, and most enthusiastically embraced the public, were Robinson ... and Killebrew.

I was lucky enough to see them play the same position in the same game. I was lucky enough to meet both, to confirm Idelson's assessment of the men.

In life, Killebrew did us a great favor. He allowed us to believe that the ballplayers we idolized in our youth were worthy of our affection. He never let us down.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2:40 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. •

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions
Detroit «00100002X340
@Ballpark Replay
Preview | Matchup | Lineup | Log | Wrap | Box
W:D.Price(15-12) L:K.Gibson(13-12) S:J.Nathan (35)
HR: MIN- None DET- I.Kinsler (17)


San Francisco - LP: J. Peavy 2 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: K. Herrera 7
San Diego 7:25 PM
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Houston 90 FINAL
Orlando 89
Brooklyn 86 FINAL
Boston 100
Washington 100 FINAL
New York 103
Cleveland 92 FINAL
Memphis 96
Minnesota 110 FINAL
Milwaukee 91
Atlanta 117 FINAL
San Antonio 107
Portland 86 FINAL
LA Lakers 94
Phoenix 105 FINAL
LA Clippers 108
Toronto 0 Postponed
Ottawa 0
Philadelphia 5 FINAL
Pittsburgh 3
Washington 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Buffalo 1 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Arkansas State 40 FINAL
Louisiana 55
Connecticut 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Chivas USA 0 FINAL
Real Salt Lake 2
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Who should get the Twins' managing job?

Weekly Question