In a sports world where competitive zeal, big money and idolization often produce self-absorbed stars, Harmon Killebrew was an anomaly.
The Minnesota Twins icon, who died Tuesday, seemed to be a man who was almost without ego. During and after his spectacular 22-year career the powerful slugger presented a persona that was humble, unassuming and considerate of others. Judging from the accolades from teammates and today’s players, who only knew him in his retirement days, it was more than just a persona.
Jack Morris, the St. Paul native who led the Twins to their 1991 World Series win, was openly emotional when he recalled what Killebrew’s example of being a man meant to him. Morris, who may have not always acted with the grace of the gentlemanly Killebrew, acknowledged that his hero’s laudable qualities went far beyond his days as a premier home run hitter.
“As a grown man now, I look back at him not as that guy, but as the guy that tried to show me you don’t have to be angry, you don’t have to be mad. You can love and share love,” Morris said.
Killebrew climbed from his small-town origins to become one of Major League Baseball’s most feared hitters. And he did it without swagger or braggadocio. He exuded a quiet confidence in his abilities and constantly showed his consideration for others. His humanitarian work supporting Miracle League Fields, a program that allow kids with disabilities to play baseball; the Harmon Killebrew Foundation; and the Danny Thompson Memorial Golf Tournament told us much about the man.
If the Killebrew image was an all an act — if it was just public relations hype, then it was one that he kept up for all of his 74 years and anyone who followed his career is richer for it.