The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: “Print the legend.”

May 22, 2011
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     “The Killer” has been killed.

     By cancer.

     Harmon Killebrew.   If you’re under 40, the name doesn’t mean a thing.   If you’re a baby-boomer and a baseball fan, saying it out loud speaks volumes.majors-logo 

     Harmon Killebrew played for the Minnesota Twins in the 60s.   He was not a colorful or charismatic player.   Prematurely bald, he once famously described his favorite hobby as “washing dishes”.   But he was the greatest power hitter of his time.   He blasted more home runs in the 60s than any other player, more than Mays, more than Aaron, more than Mantle or Maris or McCovey or Frank Robinson or Frank Howard.   Many of them were “tape measure” moonshots; he hit the longest home runs ever hit or ever measured at both Minnesota’s old Metropolitan Stadium (520 feet) and Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium.   Since both of those relic stadiums no longer exist, these are records which will last forever.   And he was also the 1st (and one of only four men ever) to hit a ball clean over the left-field roof at the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit.   The man could flat-out whomp that tater….

     And what a great name!   Harmon Killebrew!   Is that the coolest sports name of all time or what?   The perfect name for what he did to both a pitched baseball and to the enemy pitchers themselves: I mean the words “harm” and “kill” are embedded right into his first and last names!   Throw in a cold “brew”, and you’ve got yourself a great day out at the ballpark.

     In my opinion, the three greatest names in the history of the three major team sports—not nicknames, just the raw names—are Chuck Connors Person in basketball, Bronko Nagurski in football, and Harmon Killebrew in baseball.   Agreed?

     But now “The Killer” is dead.   Esophageal cancer.   I know a little something about esophageal cancer.   It claimed the life of one of my boyhood friends from my very early Iowa days, Steve Goff.   Good kid, Goff.   We used to climb trees and jump into piles of leaves and build snowmen together.   Steve was only 43 when he died.   At least Harmon made it to 74.   But it was an emaciated, grisly end for the man who hit 573 home runs….

     That’s one link between Killebrew and my youth.   Here’s another.   When I was a slightly older kid growing up in nearby Altadena, my family having moved there from Iowa in the 60s, and when me, my brothers, and the other kids living on my street would get together to play Wiffle Ball (yes, that’s really how you spell it), it was always Killebrew’s batting stance I would emulate and employ.   Killebrew was a thick, brutish man, with a trunk-like neck and blacksmith arms protruding from huge, rounded shoulders.   He looked more bear than man.   And just before the pitcher would deliver the ball Killebrew would glare back fire and extend his hands out over the plate, to where the bat would be hovering menacingly, downright ominously, practically right about where a high fastball would have to risk flight.   When I was ten I was neither thick nor brutish.   But I pretended I was Killebrew anyway, and I would glare fire and push my hands out menacingly, just like he did, right before my brothers would try to throw that Wiffle Ball by me.   That’s what I think of, every time I think of Harmon Killebrew.

     One last thing about Hammerin’ Harmon K.   It was long believed in this country that the official Major League Baseball logo was modeled after him.   Just look at that MLB logo in this column, and then google up Killebrew; ‘looks just like him!   I myself believed it for decades.   And I’m supposed to be the Sports Philosopher.   But I am also thorough, and alas my recent research on the subject has revealed that this is not so.   It’s not Killebrew.   Which at first bummed me out.   But then I got to thinking….so what?   Let’s just decide it is.   Looks just like him, who’s to say?   And so, to honor and commemorate his passing, I think we baby-boomers should all just go ahead and decide retroactively that the MLB logo is, indeed, meant to be the iconic likeness of the legendary Harmon Killebrew.   Why not?   What’s a little white lie in the grand scheme of things?    

     As the newspaperman said to Jimmy Stewart at the end of the classic John Ford western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance:   “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

meet….The Sports Philosopher!image0015

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered fictioneer, and ex-WiffleBall player deluxe.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written 4 novels* and over 20 short-stories.   

*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for it on,, or….its easy!





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