Naturally, the reporters began to call him Killer. The nickname, in many ways,was an absurdity. "Killer" fit Killebrew the way "Jazz" fits Utah or "responsible" fits government. He was so quiet and gentle that, when one reporter asked him if he had any hobbies Killebrew said, without apparent irony, that he liked washing dishes at home. He had married his high school sweetheart, and they were raising a family, and there was just nothing violent about his nature. As Barbara Heilman wrote in Sports Illustrated: "You can't look an abstraction of amiability in the eye and call it 'Killer,' day after day, no matter how hard it hits." [...]
As a hitter, he was ahead of his time. His high-walk, big-power numbers would anticipate the 1990s, when various factors -- steroids not being the least of these, though weight training and advances in diet and so on played their role -- would give many players the superhuman strength of Harmon Killebrew. At the time, though, Killebrew was different. He was apart. He was larger than life.
And, as a person, he was endlessly gracious. When word spread late last week that Harmon Killebrew was no longer going to fight the cancer that has struck him, that he was ready to accept his fate, there was a thousand stories told of Killebrew's small kindnesses, bits of advice he gave to players, moments he took to talk with fans, compliments he gave to umpires, smiles he offered to anyone who caught his eye. He will live on in baseball's record books, of course, for his 573 home runs and a homer hit per 14.22 at-bats (a better ratio than Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams or Sammy Sosa -- this though he played in a pitcher-dominated era) and his place in the Hall of Fame. But wouldn't we all want to be remembered for making countless people's days brighter?
But while Killebrew first brought to mind power, his personality couldn't have been more different. Hall of Famer Rod Carew once said of his long-time teammate, "He is a quiet man, and a true gentleman. He commands respect. He always went out and did his job and never complained. Harmon never argued with an umpire. It just wasn't his nature."
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