Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Classy Killebrew still knows how to go deep

Although everything wound up working out marvelously for Harmon Killebrew, the Baseball Hall of Famer occasionally wonders what might have happened had he accepted that football scholarship to the University of Oregon or signed with the Boston Red Sox rather than the Washington Senators after graduating from Payette (Idaho) High School back in the spring of 1954.
Though known even back then for his long-ball hitting prowess, young Harmon knew a thing or two about going deep on the football field, too. Like current Minnesota Twins slugger Joe Mauer, Killebrew was a high school All-America quarterback. So the lure of the Ducks football scholarship wasn’t easy to turn down.
“Four years later, they went to the Rose Bowl, and I always wondered if I’d been their quarterback if they’d have still gone to the Rose Bowl,’’ Killebrew was saying the other night before signing autographs at Frontier Field.
“It’s like Yogi Berra says, ‘If you come to a fork in the road, take it.’ I took this road, but wondered what would have happened if I had gone the other way. I guess everybody goes through life like that.’’
Not that he has any complaints choosing the direction he did. After all, he wound up smashing 573 home runs without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs during his 22-years in the big leagues.
The Senators (the forerunners to the Twins) signed him on the recommendation of Idaho Senator Herman Welker. Like many Washington politicians, Welker was a huge baseball fan who attended many games in D.C. One time, in the early 1950s, Welker ran into Senators owner Clark Griffith and casually mentioned this powerful Idaho high schooler by the name of Harmon Killebrew. Griffith had his farm director Ossie Bluege check out the kid, and he wound up signing him for $50,000.
Bluege got Killebrew’s signature on the dotted line just in the nick of time because a scout from the Red Sox had caught wind of Killebrew and Boston was ready to offer him a lucractive contract, too.
“I always loved hitting in Fenway Park,’’ Killebrew said. “Imagine if I had played for the Red Sox.’’
They would have had to resurface the Green Monster from all the dents he would have pounded into it.
As it turned out, Killebrew did just fine for himself with all his Bunyonesque Blasts in Minnesota.
At age 73, he continues to be a wonderful baseball ambassador. He and his wife, Nita, run the Harmon Killebrew Foundation. One of their main projects is building “Miracle Fields’’ for handicap baseball youth leagues throughout the country.
Killebrew still follows the game closely, and, like many of us, is saddened by the steroid scandal that has dogged baseball during this decade. He’s concerned not only about how it’s destroyed the integrity of the game’s records, but also worries about the future health of the players who used the performance enhancers and the message it sends to young athletes.
“I just hope that Manny Ramierez being suspended recently for 50 games (because of a failed drug test) sends a message to the other players that if you are using that stuff, you better stop because more than likely you are going to get caught,’’ he said.
Killebrew said the Twins organization has attempted to do things the right way when it comes to educating its players about the dangers and immorality of using performance-enhancers. He believes that the players on their roster are clean.
Not surprisingly, Killebrew is a big fan of Minnesota’s big boppers – first baseman Justin Morneau and catcher Joe Mauer.
Rochester Red Wings’ fans aren’t surprised by Morneau’s development. Or his power. Heck, anyone who saw the big-left-handed hitter park one almost to the railroad tracks beyond the right field wall at Frontier Field – a 500-foot blast – realized he was going to go deep often in the bigs.
But Mauer’s power surge this month has taken many by surprise. Including Killebrew.
“Joe liked to hit the ball all over the ballpark and not pull the ball so much, so I didn’t necessarily think he could hit a lot of home runs that way in the Metrodome,’’ Killebrew said. “But he’s been pulling it a little more this year. And if he continues to do that, with the power he does generate, he could hit a lot of home runs.’’
So far, Mauer – a two-time American League batting champion – has done so without compromising his high average.
“I think he’s capable of hitting 40 or more,’’ Killebrew said. “But will he decide to go in that direction if his average starts to suffer? It’s difficult to keep a high average if you pull the ball a lot. I know.’’
Killebrew admittedly cared more about going for the seats than for a batting title, as evidenced by his .256 batting average, among the lowest of any Hall of Fame member.
But that was OK with his fans who loved seeing him dial long distance.
There’s no question, he took the right fork in the road way back when.

1 comment:

Max said...

Harmon was always one of my favorites. It was probably his bat.....and his hair style.