I grew up about 80 miles from Metropolitan Stadium, which is where the Minnesota Twins played during the 1960s. Our local TV and radio stations played Twins games, so they got more of our attention than the Braves, who played in Milwaukee at the time.
One day we were watching the highlight reel on the six-o’clock sports report, and I saw a grainy film of Harmon Killebrew hitting a home run. But this wasn’t just another home run floating over the fence; it was a line drive that rocketed into the nosebleed seats high above left field. At over 500 feet, it was one of the longest home runs ever hit.
A summer or two later, my mother bought a pack of baseball cards for each of her five kids. My sister’s pack included a Harmon Killebrew card like this one. I don’t remember how I got it from her. I probably stole it. I don’t know where it is any more. I wish I did.
My life as a young baseball fan was all about rooting for Harmon Killebrew to hit home runs, and he did so often enough to hold my interest for several years. Even though a lot of people have hit more home runs than he did, only Babe Ruth exceeds Killebrew in consistency. When he wasn’t hitting home runs, he was hitting doubles off the outfield walls. He didn’t hit many triples… he couldn’t run fast enough. Like Ruth, he struck out a lot, but that’s what happens when you’re swinging for the fences all the time.
In my early teens, a group of friends and I were brought to a Twins’ game by our fathers. There was a chance we’d see Killebrew hit his 500th home run, but we had to settle for a line-drive single. The only home run we saw was a game-winner by Tony Oliva, which barely snuck into the bleachers as it hooked into the right-field corner.
But the highlight of the trip was sitting in the cheap seats on the third-base side, looking to my right to see home plate, and then looking to my left and high up to the vast pavilion in the sky above the left field wall, where all the seats were painted green except for a small cluster in the middle that were painted red. The red seats marked the landing spot of that massive home run, and I could not fathom a ball getting hit that far. The distance looks a lot different when you’re standing there than it does on TV.
The best thing to remember about Harmon Killebrew is that he had massive upper body strength without the need for steroids, and that he played at the top of his game year after year without getting full of himself, trash-talking or taunting. Even when he developed into the older player that Jim Bouton called “the fat kid,” he was a fat kid that pitchers had to take VERY seriously.
It’s too bad that baseball no longer produces the kind of players that kids can revere the way that some of us revered Harmon Killebrew, who became the model for the silhouette of Major League Baseball’s logo, and who was rumored (not true) to be the model for the “Arm and Hammer” logo. Harmon Killebrew represents a baseball era that – sadly – is long gone.
Charmin Harmon,awh yes.Don’t know a real lot about the “fat kid”,but i is a big fan of Jim Bouton(Ball Four).Jim was the one who burst our bubbles,about the “baseball era,long gone”.As Loudon Wainwright the 3rd sings”the good old days are good&gone;that’s why the’re good because the’re GONE.”Or as dave bowie sings”cha,cha,cha CHANGES….”Mr. Bouton payed the price for exposing the baseball players for what they are-human.As Mr. Zimmerman sings”Don’t follow leaders”Are we not shocked&dismayed over the behind the scenes escapades of JFK& why,well because no one had the balls to expose him,that’s where a tip of the cap goes to Mr.Bouton.As one of Jim’s coaches used to mutter in the dugout during the game”shit,fuck-fuck,shit.Awh good day to work,let’s pound the old budweiser,eat a hodgie-let’s see a little hey-ho out there.i didn’t pay to much attention to the Twins,for they played in the junior circuit-aka,the Amerikan league.Me,i is a national league fan,worst yet a Pittsburgh Pirates fan-Then we moved to the Milw.area& i had countless,talks,discussions,arguements,debates(?)’bout who is a better player/right fielder-Aaron or Clemente,i consider meself lucky to have such “talks”.Just like i consider meself lucky to have been able to see,Bob D,Bob M,Kiff&the boys,Bruce,L.Reed,Papa John,the Dead & a whole slough of others.By the way Roberto Clemente,was the better player.Norm Cash looked good at the plate as well as Charmin Harmon.
Craig, “Ball Four” is probably the best baseball book I’ve ever read (though I haven’t read that many. On the other hand, I’ve known a lot of hard-core baseball freaks who agree with me.). You’re right about how Bouton made the ball players human. They actually come across as ten-year-old boys who never grew up.
The best story in the book was when Micky Mantle showed up drunk for a game in the early sixties. He sat on the bench for most of the game, but the manager put him in to pinch-hit. In spite of his inebriated condition, he hit a home run anyway, and could barely make the run around the bases.
In the context of this thread, I remember Bouton talking about seeing a friend of his… another pitcher. He asked him how he was doing, and the response was, “The fat kid hit a double with the bases loaded.” I guess he wasn’t doing too well.
Ball Four was and remains one of the best books I have ever read. I can turn to ANY page and find something funny or interesting. I remember the “hungover Mantle” home run story well because I have repeated it to many people. After a very slow trot around the bases, the Mick sat on the bench, squinted out at the cheering crowd, and muttered, “They’ll never know how hard that was.” Classic!