Reflections on Harmon Killebrew’s career

Harmon Killebrew ranks 11th on the all-time home run list with 573 home runs, and, had it not been for at least three injury-plagued seasons, Killebrew would have been among the elite players in the 600-home run club.

“I never think about it that way because I was so fortunate to be playing baseball for as long as I did,’’ Killebrew said during a spring-training interview in Fort Myers, Fla., his final day in a Minnesota Twins uniform.

Killebrew, 74, who started his career with the Washington Senators in 1954, announced Friday that he was giving up his fight against esophageal cancer and moving into an Arizona hospice.

In 1960, his last season as a Senator, he hit 31 home runs despite playing in only 124 games. In 1965, he finished with 25 home runs in 113 games during the Twins’ World Series season. In 1968, he injured his hamstring and had 17 home runs in 100 games.

Killebrew hit 41 of his home runs for the Senators in Washington’s Griffith Stadium. He hit 30 in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium and 25 at RFK Stadium in D.C. as a Twin.

Killebrew hit 68 home runs against the Orioles, tied with Detroit as the third-most against one opponent, behind the Chicago White Sox (72) and Kansas City-Oakland (75).

Growing up in South Dakota, I can tell you that the entire Upper Midwest was ecstatic when Killebrew and the Senators moved to Minnesota to start the 1961 season.

Killebrew is a gentle giant with a stocky build and gigantic arms. He had ferocious swing, but a humble personality and a soft-spoken voice.

My friends and I used to imitate his batting stance and clamor to have his No. 3 on our uniforms. He was known as the “Killer” when he was hitting home runs, and we called him “Harmless Harm” when he wasn’t.

Post-career, Killebrew stayed in touch with baseball and the Twins, getting to know each of their players. One day in spring training, Killebrew and Tony Oliva, another Twins legend and Killebrew’s teammate, were watching the Twins’ first baseman, Justin Morneau, take batting practice.

Killebrew was in awe of Morneau’s power. The two talked for a few minutes.

After the session, Killebrew and Oliva sat in the empty clubhouse when Killebrew told Oliva he was cutting spring training short so that he could return to Arizona and continue cancer treatments.

They embraced. Oliva told Killebrew he loved him. Killebrew said, “I love you Tony.’‘

Oliva told Killebrew he’d see him in Minnesota. “I hope so,’’ Killebrew responded.

They left the clubhouse together. Oliva headed to a minor-league field to coach the prospects. Killebrew walked quietly to his car and drove to the airport.

It was Killebrew’s last day in a Twins uniform.