TSN Archives: Twins’ Harmon Killebrew Named AL Player of the Year (October 25, 1969)

This story, by Mike Lamey, first appeared in the October 25, 1969, issue of The Sporting News, naming Twin Cities icon Harmon Killebrew TSN AL Player of the Year, as voted by fellow AL players. .

Baseball’s quiet man Harmon Killebrew is The Sporting News’ American League Player of the Year.

Killebrew, who lets his bat do most of his talking, was selected ahead of another silent giant, Baltimore’s Boog Powell, in the AL Players’ Ballot.

This is the first time the Twins slugger has received the award and he greeted the news with modesty.

“Having the players vote me for this honor means a lot,” Killebrew said.

Although he hit 446 homers during his 11-year major league career and made 1,148 runs, he was never in contention for MVP honors except for those bestowed by the Twins.

That year he hit 49 home runs, a total he also achieved in 1964. In 1965 he was a vital cog in the Twins’ pennant victory, but he was injured late in the season and then his teammate Zoilo Versalles was the AL MVP. .

However, it was the year that almost wasn’t.

On July 9, 1968, Killebrew’s baseball career nearly ended at the All-Star Game in Houston. Harmon, while stretching at first base, slipped and ruptured his left medial hamstring muscle.

“It was as bad an injury as I’ve seen in the last 10 years,” said Twins doctor Dr. Harvey O’Phelan. “We thought it might be the end of his career and so could he.”

Wasn’t sure about the future

But Killebrew never gave up hope or started looking for another job.

“I didn’t know how it was going to go at the start of this season,” Killebrew explained. “I was really wondering how it was going to go. To be honest, I wasn’t sure about playing again.

“It wasn’t a pleasant thought, but I never thought of alternatives to what I would do if I was done with baseball. I was just planning to wait and see.”

During the offseason, Killebrew worked hard to repair his injured leg. This included weightlifting, stretching exercises and even hunting around his home in Ontario, Ore.

“It was a good excuse to go hunting,” Killebrew said with a laugh. “I like to hunt anyway, and that way I could exercise my leg by doing a lot of walking in the hills.”

“He was an excellent patient,” added Dr. O’Phelan. “He did everything we asked and had to put up with the pain at first. He was serious about coming back and came to the Twin Cities several times so we could check on his progress.

“There was always pain and problems in spring training and we were always seriously worried about his future. But he deserves all the credit because he did all the hard work.”

All Killebrew did, despite some pain, was played in all 162 games, something no other Twin has done and a feat less than half a dozen other American Leaguers have accomplished.

Led in Homers and RBIs

In those 162 games, he was one of the team’s most consistent hitters and helped the Twins win the West Division championship. He finished with 49 home runs, 140 RBI, both major league highs.

On that bad leg, he even stole eight bases in 10 attempts. His previous base total stolen in 10 years was just seven.

His batting average was .276, 66 runs higher than in 1968. His 49 homers tied his career high and his 140 RBI broke a club record.

He also walked 145 times while striking out just 84. Those walks cost Killebrew a lot more RBI chances. In fact, he received 20 intentional tickets. The runners were in scoring position 61 times when he took the walk. In sweeping the AL Pennant Playoffs from Minnesota, Baltimore walked Killebrew six times in three games.

TSN Archives: Vikings QB Fran Tarkenton Named 1975 NFC Player of the Year (January 31, 1976)

“Taking a base on bullets depends on the situation,” Killebrew explained. “A step can change the complexion of the game. I know a lot of times I could swing on pitches that were just a bit outside the strike zone, but I felt that wasn’t fair to the other players.

“A lot of times you get overly anxious when you only get bad throws. But when you start swinging on bad ones, you’re less likely to see good ones.

“I could also reduce my strikeouts a lot more, but I think I help the club more by swinging. You have to swing the bat to make contact. What I feel is taking a good tear.

No bad meltdowns

“What I’m really happy about is that I played every game. That must have meant I was healthy. I didn’t have any real seizures, but I still like to feel that I could have done better. You should never be satisfied.”

One goal that Killebrew would have liked to achieve was the 50 home run mark. Only 10 players joined this select group. They are Roger Maris, 61 years old: Babe Ruth, twice 60, 59 and 54 years old; Jimmie Foxx, 58 and 50; Hank Greenberg, 58; Hack Wilson, 56; Ralph Kiner 54 and 52; Mickey Mantle, 54 and 52; Willie Mays, 52 and 51, and Johnny Mize, 51.

“The funny thing is, on the last day of the season (against Chicago), I had more good pitches to hit than I’ve seen in a long time,” Harmon said. “I’m just too under the ball.”

A factor in naming a player as the best in the league must be the number of times he has won games.

Killebrew had 20 hits during the regular season. Of his 153 hits, 57 could be considered hits. He put the Twins ahead 28 times, tied the game eight more times, gave the team an insurance run eight times, pulled the team in a run three times, plus 20 winners.

Against Oakland, the Twins’ only serious challenger for the West Division title after the first month, Killebrew was at his best. In 18 games, 13 of which the Twins won, Harmon had a fantastic .435 average (30 for 69). This included 11 homers, 30 runs scored and 34 RBIs.

In the final nine games of this series, the Twins belter had 24 RBIs and nine home runs while going 16 for 32 at the plate.

It’s no wonder Reggie Jackson of Athletics said:

“If Harmon Killebrew isn’t the No. 1 player in this league, I’ve never seen one. He’s one of the greatest of all time.”

There’s no denying what Killebrew does with his bat, but what’s often overlooked is his game on the court. Harmon played most of the last half of the season at third base once Rich Reese took over early.

Out of competition in the third

“Everybody told me not to play Harmon in third,” said manager Billy Martin. “Well, he did a hell of a job there. Granted, there’s only one Brooks Robinson and Harmon isn’t Brooks. But then who is he?”

Killebrew made 22 errors, 20 on third base. But just one cost the Twins a game and only seven of those runners scored. His hit count gave him a 20-1 margin in games he won over games he lost.

The season has not passed without several injuries, none of which have prevented him from playing.

“He’s had pretty much everything injury-wise,” said team coach Doc Lentz. “He never complains. He’s had bruised ribs, a pulled muscle, a knocked knee, a swollen arm, a bad elbow, etc. But he plays every day because he’s your money player.”

“His arm swelled up so much once I thought it was going to bloom,” Martin said of one of five pitches that hit Killebrew. “He had a lot of blood in there and very few guys could have played the next day. But Harmon did, and he hit a home run.”

But Killebrew’s value isn’t just in what he does on the pitch. Although he is calm and reserved and far from being a brawler, he has the respect of his teammates,

“He sends his congratulations to any player who gets a hit,” said Frank Quilici, Harmon’s defensive back-up at No. 3. “It’s his way of making players feel good. He shares the excitement, but he doesn’t show it outwardly. The emotion is there. And if he starts to line up better in third, I might be unemployed.”

Harmon probably gets the most mail out of all the twin players and he tries to answer everything. Before most matches, he can be found rummaging through a large box in front of his locker reading letters. He is also one of the most sought after players by kids looking for autographs.

Children’s favorite

“Hey, here’s the big guy,” yelled a youngster from Seattle. “You try to put him on this side and, if he gets away with it, I’ll wait for you here. Someday it might be worth something.”

It’s already.

Without a doubt, Harmon will be a sought-after speaker on the winter banquet circuit, but he prefers to stay home with his family.

“I don’t really like these banquet rounds,” he said, laughing softly. “I’m going to relax for a while, go hunting. I also have my company Killebrew Enterprise based in Salt Lake City and I will work there. Among other things, we have the Power Stride Batting Trainer for young people that we sell. “

It would be quite an endorsement if Killebrew could say he learned to punch at home with that Power Stride, but that’s too new to be true.

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