WASHINGTON — Tributes poured in from Capitol Hill and the campaign trail today for legendary Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew, who died today after a long bout with esophageal cancer. He was 74.
“Harmon Killebrew was a baseball legend, a Minnesota treasure and a man with a heart of gold,” said Tim Pawlenty in a statement. “All Minnesotans who grew up, as Mary and I did, loving outdoor baseball at the old Met stadium will forever remember Harmon with a smile. We will greatly miss him and extend our heartfelt condolences to his family.”
“Harmon Killebrew was a legend, for Minnesota and for baseball,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar agreed. “When I would go to Twins games at the old Met stadium with my Dad, I was just one of thousands of kids who were there with their families hoping for a homer from Harmon. It was always a thrill to see Harmon swing the bat and slam the ball over the fence and into the stands. He gave us pride in the Twins as well as the sport of baseball. We will cherish his memory.”
Killebrew, one of the Twins’ greatest players of all time, was beloved in Minnesota. But he also had a special place in the hearts of long-time Washingtonians, having played for the Washington Senators before that team moved to Minnesota to become the Twins. Born in Idaho, he also had a deep connection to his home state.
Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo delivered a statement on the Senate floor that was co-signed by Klobuchar, Sen. Al Franken and Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, lauding Killebrew not just for his acheivements on the field, but also his charitable work off it. In particular, Crapo noted that an Idaho-based charitable golf tournament Killebrew co-founded in memory of his Twins teammate Danny Thompson has raised more than $25 million (including sponsorships and matching dollars) for leukemia and cancer research, divided between a Boise hospital and the University of Minnesota Cancer Research Center.
“Harmon Killebrew’s talent and hard work have inspired countless young athletes, and he leaves behind a legacy of encouraging skill and dedicated service. We extend our condolences and prayers to his family, friends and loved ones and deep gratitude for his compassion, service and leadership,” Crapo said.
Killebrew’s last home was in Arizona, and that state’s senior senator joined in the tributes to the home run hitter.
“A genuine American hero and a great athlete Harmon Killebrew passed away today,” John McCain wrote on Twitter. “He was one of the great homerun hitters of all time.”
The full text of Crapo’s floor speech, as prepared for delivery, is below:
Mr./Madam President, my colleagues Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Al Franken (D-Minnesota) join me today in honoring the life of Harmon Clayton Killebrew. We join with his family and friends in mourning his passing and paying tribute to his inspirational life.
Harmon Killebrew began his exemplary athletic career in Idaho. He was born June 29, 1936 in Payette, Idaho where he earned multiple awards as an athlete in baseball, basketball and football at Payette High School. Harmon explained his childhood in Idaho in a way that fellow Idahoans could clearly understand. He often shared this quote from his childhood. “My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, ‘You’re tearing up the grass’; ‘We’re not raising grass,’ Dad would reply. ‘We’re raising boys.’” We understand Harmon often credited then-U.S. Senator from Idaho, Herman Welker, for recommending to then-Washington Senators owners, the Griffith family, that their team sign Killebrew, and at age 17, Killebrew signed his first professional baseball contract with the Washington Senators.
He went on to play his first seven seasons here in Washington, DC, before moving with the franchise to Minnesota in 1961, when it would be renamed the Minnesota Twins. Killebrew played fourteen seasons in Minnesota, making the all-star team in ten of those seasons. He also competed in the 1965 World Series, where his Twins would lose to the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games. Killebrew completed his professional baseball career in 1975, playing one season with the Kansas City Royals.
His remarkable skills earned him due recognition. He was awarded the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1969, when he led the league in both home runs and runs batted in. Killebrew’s #3 uniform was retired by the Minnesota Twins, and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984. His accomplishment of 573 career home runs currently ranks 11th on the all-time baseball list.
Killebrew’s legacy extends far beyond the baseball field. He remained active in Idaho following his retirement, including taking the lead on many important charitable efforts. In 1977, Killebrew and former Idaho Representative Ralph Harding founded the Danny Thompson Memorial Golf Tournament, in honor of Killebrew’s former Minnesota Twins teammate, who died from leukemia in 1976. Since then, this annual tournament, played in Sun Valley, Idaho, has raised more than $11 million, which has been leveraged with matching grants to over $25 million, for leukemia and cancer research. Each year, these proceeds are divided equally between St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute in Boise, Idaho and the University of Minnesota Cancer Research Center.
Harmon Killebrew’s talent and hard work have inspired countless young athletes, and he leaves behind a legacy of encouraging skill and dedicated service. We extend our condolences and prayers to his family, friends and loved ones and deep gratitude for his compassion, service and leadership.