Harmon Killebrew (1936-2011)

May 18, 2011 • 4:52 am

In my younger days I was a baseball aficionado, and one of my heroes was Hammerin’ Harmon Killebrew, a great hitter and a truly nice guy.  I won’t recount his exploits here; you can read about them in the New York Times obituary: he died yesterday, at age 74, from esophageal cancer.  In his memory, I ransacked my shelves and dug out the only piece of baseball memorabilia I have: a science journal autographed by Killebrew:

In 1972 I lived in New York City, working at a hospital as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.  I used to take long walks through Manhattan, and would carry some journals with me to read during breaks.  On this occasion I was strolling in front of the Plaza Hotel and noticed a huge bus disgorging sportsmen, who were surrounded by a pack of kids. It was the Minnesota Twins, in town to play the Yankees.  I recognized Killebrew (he was a big guy) and joined the throng around him for autographs.  When my turn came, I proffered the only thing I had to autograph: a copy of the March, 1972 issue of Genetics. (It must have been April then: the 1972 Twins schedule shows them in New York from April 28-April 30).

When Killebrew took the journal to sign his name, he turned it over and saw the title.  He looked quizzical.  I told him, “It’s a science journal, Mr. Killebrew.  I’m a geneticist.”  He looked at me as if I were nuts, but signed it anyway.  This has to be the only copy of a scientific journal signed by a Hall of Famer!

I’m putting this today into my folder of “Letters from famous people.”  (Perhaps I’ll post some of the more interesting ones anon.)

16 thoughts on “Harmon Killebrew (1936-2011)

  1. A lovely story – not the same when you only get an e-mail from someone these days – who would keep one of those as a treasured posession for 40 years!

  2. Well, nice, really. I don’t know who Killbrew was but I guess he was very important for you to have him sign your genetics book (-:

  3. The Twins moved to St Paul the same year I did. We went to many a game at Metropolitan Stadium, and I can probably still recite half their 1965 roster even though I now could care less about baseball. Harmon Killebrew was a bigger than life hero to me when I was a kid.

    I was tremendously moved by his dignified press release last Friday announcing his hospice care. I was also struck by no mention of god anywhere. But perhaps he was just private about his beliefs and I’m reading too much into it.

  4. I too was a baseball aficiando as a youth, collecting cards [as much for the bubble gum as for the card] and had several Killebrew cards. Like many others folks, I got rid of my cards sometime during college – duh! Interestingly, I too was a CO and did my alternative service at the Denver VA and CU medical center. It would be interesting to hear more of JC’s experience – I wrote about mine last veteran’s day. http://dougandrhonda.blogspot.com/2010/11/veterans-day-2010-each-year-when.html

    1. It would be interesting to hear more of JC’s experience…

      I thought so too. Esp. about the process of obtaining a CO.

  5. I, too, enjoyed the baseball exploits of Mr. Killebrew, a magnificent hitter. I know the feeling you had when you landed his autograph I had the same experience when I received yours for your book on evolution and Sam’s for his three books. Priceless.

  6. I too remember Killebrew well from the 1960s and my period of baseball infatuation. I am sure that his death makes a lot of us feel the tug of mortality just a little bit more. For some of us, that issue would be a conflation of two longstanding interests and a doubled piece of memorabilia – the autograph of Harmon Killebrew on a Genetics issue owned by Jerry Coyne!

  7. When I was a graduate student in Cambridge, Mass., in the 1980s, my wife was once at the Jordan Marsh at Downtown Crossing (at the time, the Boston department store), when she came across Yankee great Lou Piniella shilling for some weight reducing regimen. Having no interest in the product, but being a Yankee fan, she went up to him and got him to sign her Jordan Marsh shopping bag. We framed it, and it hung in our apartment for a number of years; it’s now (I hope) in storage in the attic.

  8. And one other signing story, involving Ken Miyata, a late, great friend and colleague of Jerry and I. As Ken was finishing his thesis (which weighed in at a whopping 8 lbs, 13 ozs, sans binding), Emmy Lou Harris made an appearance at the Harvard Coop (which was a department store with a large music selection then, not merely a bookstore). Ken, a fan of hers, took his thesis down to the Coop, and Emmy Lou signed it– probably the only Harvard thesis signed by the thesis committee and a recording star!

  9. Killebrew was a great player and that’s funny about he signed your journal.

    So many ex-baseball fans, I wonder why? It’s still a great game, despite its hardships.

    Jerry, do you still watch baseball?

  10. I’m a late-life baseball aficionado (go, Tigers!).

    And I agree w/ Frank above–great triple here, Genetics + Killebrew + Coyne.

    And, showing my athlete-ism here (parallel racisim, sexism…)–what an elaborate signature for a ballplayer. Suppose that’s how we can tell they weren’t selling autographs in those days.

  11. Just a couple of minor notes from a Minnesotan.

    “I recognized Killebrew (he was a big guy). . . .” Killebrew was a big guy (240 lbs.) although he was not a tall guy (5’9″). However, that was not as short back in the day as it is now.

    @ #3 Daveau: “The Twins moved to St Paul. . . .” Actually, the Twins moved to Bloomington, MN, a Minneapolis suburb and the home of Metropolitan Stadium. However, they were the Minnesota Twins and St. Paul was right up the road.

    Killebrew was one of a kind, both as a player and as a person.

  12. I remain a life-long baseball lover and admired Killebrew as a slugger and, latterly, as a decent human being. I love the oddity of the signed Genetics. I own a copy of a French grammar text signed by Moe Berg, catcher ordinaire and intellect extraordinaire, as anyone who’s read Nicholas Dawidoff’s excellent The Catcher Was A Spy will know. Of course, it’s not much a coincidence, since Berg signed the book as part of his library. It was said he could speak 10 languages and couldn’t hit in any of them.

  13. I grew up as and still am a Minnesota Twins fan. Harmon Killebrew was a major reason. He was a true athlete, he appreciated his fans. Thanks for one of the few blog entries I have found re: Mr. Killebrew. I was saddened by his death.
    BTW, I am a Christian who sees no problem with evolution.

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