I remember it as if it was only yesterday — the night John and I went off to a Twins game at the old Met Stadium. We had high expectations for a Twins victory on that warm summer night, but everything went wrong from the start and the Twins fell into a hole and were five runs behind when the eighth inning came to a close. John said let’s get out of here and we weren’t alone that night; Lots of disappointed people were leaving just like we were. The traffic was slowly snaking its way up Cedar Avenue, trying to thin out and disperse into the dark side streets, when suddenly John reached down and turned on the car radio.
Herb and Halsey seemed to be too excited. Their mood didn’t seem to match the dismal display we had witnessed. The bottom of the order had been due up in the ninth but they were talking about Oliva at bat and the score was now 6-4, with two out. Tony hit a soft liner into center field that fell in front of the center fielder and a murmur was going through the crowd. The killer was up and a new pitcher was coming in. Common sense said they wouldn’t pitch to him, but they did, and they paid. They put the Killebrew shift on with all of the infielders on the left side of the infield daring him to try and go to right filed. They could have put all of the infielders and outfielders too over there — it wouldn’t have made any difference. The ball ended up in the left field bleachers. I’m not sure if the Twins won that night in the extra innings. I’m only sure I was so sad to have not seen that ball go out off the Killer’s bat. I take solace in the fact I saw many more go out, as only he could hit them.
That’s the kind of player Harmon was. He made you sit on the edge of your seat whenever he came to bat. If you had to go to the bathroom you held it. The odds were that he would strike out more times than he would hit a home run, but it didn’t matter, you could only hope —not this time. It was the thrill of that mighty swing you came to watch because only Harmon could drill a ball 520 feet into the upper deck of the old Met and who cares if the Twins won or lost, you saw our own great Bambino at his best. He never celebrated his hitting feats, he just calmly set the bat down and circled the bases and even the opposing pictures would look with awe.
I never forgave the Twins for trading Harmon to Kansas City that last year of his career. He was our hero and he deserved better. But when it was all over and No. 3 laid down the hickory or ash for the last time, it was he who forgave and came home from Kansas City to be a Twin for the rest of his life. The only other baseball side trip he ever took was to Cooperstown where he was immortalized and enshrined with the other greats. But there was more to Harmon than hitting baseballs. This was a man who epitomized sportsmanship, his love for the game and his devotion to his fans. He was as revered on the day he died, as the day he retired. We’re not used to those kinds of athletes anymore. They don’t come along very often. I cried when I heard of Harmon’s death and someday soon, when I start chipping away at my bucket list, one of my first orders of business will be to drive to the Baseball Hall of Fame and go touch his plaque and cry some more. It’s the least I can do after all he did for baseball, the Twins, and me. God bless you Harmon.
MIKE HOLST is an author and a columnist for Northland Press. He lives in Crosslake.