Minnesota Twins icon Harmon Killebrew dies

Minnesota Twins legend and Baseball Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew died this morning at home in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Twins announced today.

Killebrew, 74, had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer in December and last week announced that he was entering hospice care. Killebrew’s wife, Nita, and family was with him when he died, the Twins said.

“No individual has ever meant more to the Minnesota Twins organization and millions of fans across Twins Territory than Harmon Killebrew,” Twins president Dave St. Peter said in a statement. “Harmon will long be remembered as one of the most prolific home run hitters in the history of the game and the leader of a group of players who helped lay the foundation for the long-term success of the Twins franchise and Major League Baseball in the Upper Midwest. However, more importantly Harmon’s legacy will be the class, dignity and humility he demonstrated each and every day as a Hall of Fame-quality husband, father, friend, teammate and man. The Twins extend heartfelt sympathies and prayers to the Killebrew family at this difficult time.”

Killebrew ranks 11th on baseball’s career home run list with 573.

“This is truly a sad day in the history of the Minnesota Twins organization,” Twins owner Jim Pohlad said in a statement. “The Twins will remember Harmon for his many on-field contributions but (more) importantly for the impeccable quality of his character, his great integrity and his compassion for everyone he encountered. The Pohlad family and the Twins organization send our thoughts and prayers to Nita and the rest of the Killebrew family. Harmon will be deeply missed by all.”

The Twins had hoped to visit Killebrew on Friday when they arrived in Arizona for their three-game interleague series with the Diamondbacks, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that ultimately would be up to Killebrew.

“If there would be an opportunity, I would love to go say hi, but I have total respect for being around your family and keeping it as calm as you can around there,” he said Monday.

But Bert Blyleven, a former teammate and soon-to-be Hall of Fame peer, said he believed Killebrew would have wanted to see the Twins, and that he planned to see him on Friday. Rod Carew, another former teammate and Hall of Famer, was going to visit him today, Blyleven said.

Blyleven said he spoke with Killebrew by phone on Monday.

“He sounded tired, but as Harmon does, he said, ‘Tell those boys to get some wins,’ ” Blyleven said.

Killebrew was a fixture at spring training and forged close relationships with many of the players. Gardenhire said it was impossible to overestimate his position with the club, which started with the Washington Senators before the team moved to the Twin Cities.

“He’s the Hall of Famer, one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet in your life, and we want our players to emulate him,” Gardenhire said Monday. “I don’t think there’s too many people who walked away disappointed after meeting Harmon. I think probably nobody, because he makes everybody feel pretty damn good about themselves.

“He means everything to this organization.”

Cancer treatments at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona delayed his arrival at spring training until mid-March this year. Killebrew had hoped to be at Target Field for the home opener April 8, and he was scheduled to throw out the opening pitch, but again he could not attend because of treatments.

“Harmon Killebrew personified Hall of Fame excellence in every aspect of his dynamic life,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum chairman Jane Forbes Clark said in a statement. “He will forever be remembered for his 573 career home runs and as the 1969 American League Most Valuable Player, and as one of the greatest hitters of his era. Since joining the Hall of Fame family in 1984, Harmon was a beacon of light among his fellow Hall of Famers, always smiling, always enjoying every moment that life delivered at his doorstep. We have so many fond memories of this wonderful baseball hero, and we will miss him enormously.”

“Harmon was a Hall of Famer on and off the field,” Jeff Idelson, Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson, said in a statement. “He was baseball’s version of Paul Bunyan, with his prodigious home run power, leading by example in the clubhouse and on the field. Off the field, he emanated class, dignity, and warmth, and he was a great humanitarian. He was so down-to-earth, you would never realize he was a baseball legend. It’s ironic that his nickname was ‘Killer,’ as he was one of the nicest, most generous individuals to ever walk the earth.”

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