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Harmon Killebrew dies from esophageal cancer: Was he baseball's most underrated home run hitter ever?


Harmon Killebrew’s bout with esophageal cancer  has come to an end at the age of 74.  Harmon Killebrew photo: www.entertainment.howstuffworks.comAlthough Killebrew announced he was entering hospice this weekend, his death was still a shock to Major League Baseball and its fans.

Former teammates and friends Tony Oliva, Paul Molitor, and Jack Morris have expressed their condolences for Killebrew as a player, and also as an extraordinary human being off the field.  Killebrew bridged the gap from the Twins move from Washington in the early sixties, and the city of Minnesota has never had a greater ambassador in sports. Even when he was on his death bed, Killebrew still expressed his love for the team.

Killebrew retired a few years before I was born, so I unfortunately never saw him play. Killebrew was like our Mike Schmidt. And because Schmidt was one of my heroes growing up, I often take notice of other great home run hitters in the game’s history as well as their stats.  

When you hear of the game’s great home run hitters, you immediately think of Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, and maybe sometimes Schmidt.

However, even before Killebrew’s passing, I often wondered aloud with several of my friends why there has been so little fanfare outside Minnesota for a man who hit 573 home runs in baseball. Nobody hit more home runs than Killebrew in the 1960’s. He only trails Babe Ruth for most 40-home run seasons, and he averaged a home run every 14.2 at bats, which places him eighth all-time. Killebrew accomplished this despite battling numerous injuries throughout his 22 seasons in the major leagues. His career batting average was only .256, but they were paying him to hit home runs, not to be like Pete Rose.

Yet despite his impressive home run totals, it took Killebrew four years to get into the Hall of Fame. Kind of hard to believe that only 11 (and that number is bogus) more players in the history of the game have hit more home runs than he did and it still took that long.

When you take all of this into account, it’s safe to say that Harmon Killebrew is baseball’s most underrated home run hitter ever. 

Coming from someone who was once checked for the same disease that claimed Killebrew's life, his death kind of hits close to home. Not only was he a gem on and off the field, but the class he displayed during his final days should be an example for all of us.


Contact Joe at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Article photo: www.entertainment.howstuffworks.com