Harmon Killebrew career highlights

Harmon Killebrew passed away the morning of May 17, 2011.

A few days ago, after Killebrew announced he was entering a hospice to prepare for the end, I wrote a column on him, the last section of which noted some of the more interesting games/moments of his career. I actually looked up a lot more items but had to cut the others out for time/space constraints.

This piece is just to list some of the highlights and oddities in his career. Some I mentioned on Monday, but as long as I list his highlights in one big piece, I may as well note the few listed there.

Before I get to that, one random thing I realized after writing that article. Killebrew played for Bucky Harris and Jack McKeon. Harris managed the 1924 world champions, and McKeon managed the 2003 world champs. That has got to be the biggest split any player has ever had.

Now, on to the highlights of his career as well as some of the more interesting games he participated in. They’re not all necessarily highlights for Killebrew himself, but they’re things he was on hand for at least.

June 23, 1954: Harmon Killebrew makes his MLB debut. Somewhat humorously given his later slow-footed reputation, Killebrew’s first appearance is as a pinch runner. He’s just days away from his 18th birthday. Side note: One of his teammates in 1954 is Connie Marrero, who at age 43 is one of the oldest players in MLB in 1954. Connie Marrero is still alive. He turned 100 earlier this year and is the oldest living ex-ballplayer.

June 24, 1954: Still just 17 years old, Harmon Killebrew hits his first home run.

August 24, 1954: In the second game Killebrew ever has his name listed in the starting batting order, opposing pitcher Jack Harshman dominates. He not only tosses a complete game shutout but also hits a home run along the way. This would be the first of five games Killebrew played in where a pitcher homered and tossed a shutout.

May 27, 1955: Senators lose 16-0 as Norm Zauchin of Boston goes 4-for-5 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. It’s the most RBIs anyone will have in a game featuring Killebrew.

April 17, 1956: On Opening Day, Ed Rommel becomes the first umpire to wear glasses on the field. Killebrew appears as a pinch hitter.

May 19, 1956: Senators lose 5-1 to the Indians despite allowing only two hits. They walk 11 and hit two batters. In the second inning, two runs are forced in by a walk, and a third by a HBP.

June 21, 1956: Harmon Killebrew hits the first of 11 career grand slams.

April 22, 1959: Yankees 1, Senators 0 (14). Complete game win for Whitey Ford is the highest Game Score any pitcher will have in a Killebrew game: 106. His line: 14 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 7 BB, 15 K.

May 17, 1959: Harmon Killebrew has his fifth multi-home run game of the month. Not bad.

May 29, 1959: Here’s one I noted on Monday: President Eisenhower attends the game and has Killebrew sign a bat for Ike’s grandson, David.

September 13, 1960. Twins lose 6-5 in 11 innings to the White Sox in a most unlikely way: Walk-off home run by second baseman Nellie Fox, who hit only 35 homers in over 10,000 career PA.

April 11, 1961: Twins play their first game and win 6-0 over the Yankees in the Bronx.

May 2, 1961: Killebrew hits an extra-inning home run for the second time in three days. Rather annoyingly, Minnesota loses both games.

July 28, 1960: For the second and final time in his career, Killebrew is strangely slotting as the batting order’s leadoff hitter. He hits a home run leading off the first.

May 9, 1961: Killebrew can’t keep pace with Baltimore’s Jim Gentile. Killebrew hits a solo home run late in the game, but Gentile hit two grand slams and ended the day with nine RBIs, as the Orioles win 13-5.

June 16, 1961: Harmon Killebrew hits his 100th career home run. It’s off Early Wynn. Note: Early Wynn began his career in 1939. Killebrew will later homer off Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana, who both pitch until 1993. So that’s a 54-year period in which Killebrew’ed pitchers played in MLB.

June 18, 1961: For the second time in less than a year, Nellie Fox hits a walk-off home run against the Twins. Those are his only walk-off home runs in his major league career. Fox’s blast gives the Sox a 4-3 win in the first game of a doubleheader. Killebrew homers in the second game, but the Twins lose anyway.

July 4, 1961: Another doubleheader against the White Sox, another walk-off home run. This time the Twins hit it, a walk-off grand slam by Julio Becquer. As far as I know, it’s still the only walk-off grand slam the Twins have ever had. I know that was the case as of a few years ago. Killebrew led off the bottom of the ninth by flying out.

August 27, 1961: Milt Pappas of the Orioles dominates Killebrew’s Twins. He not only throws a complete game shutout, but also hits not just one but TWO home runs on his own. Killebrew is 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

May 18, 1962: Killebrew and teammate Bob Allison both hit grand slams in the first inning. Not a bad way to start a game.

August 26, 1962: Jack Kralick tosses the first no-hitter in Minnesota Twins history. Killebrew played most of the game, but was pulled for a defensive replacement in the ninth inning.

July 19, 1963: Harmon Killebrew hits his 200th home run.

July 20, 1963: The longest hitting streak of his career peaked at 13 games. He’d gone 15-for-44 with five homers and a double. Batting average was never Killebrew’s strength.

July 24, 1963: Jim Kaat didn’t need Killebrew or any of his Minnesota teammates, as he tosses a complete game shutout and hits a home run.

September 21, 1963: Harmon Killebrew hits three home runs in one game, the only time he ever does that.

July 31, 1964: Harmon Killebrew hits the first of four career walk-off home runs. Twins beat Yanks 4-3 after he hits a two-out homer with a runner on off Al Downing.

September 15, 1964: Here’s another one I mentioned on Monday: Killebrew plays right field for the only time. He lasts 0.1 innings out there before moving back to his previous position in left field. All that happened was a guy struck out.

July 11, 1965: According to WPA, this was the greatest game of his career. He posted a WPA of 1.029 by going 3-for-4 with a home run and an intentional walk while scoring two runs and driving in two as the Twins beat the Yanks 6-5. He also fanned once. The key blast is his second career walk-off home run with a runner on and the Twins down by one with two outs in the ninth.

October 14, 1965: It’s the biggest game of Killebrew’s life: Game Seven of the World Series. Sandy Koufax dominates, tossing a complete game three-hit shutout. Killebrew gets one of the hits, but LA wins 2-0. As it happens, this is the only game of the Series won by the road team, which means it’s the only World Series game in which the Twins have ever played where the home team lost. The home team won all the games in the 1987 and 1991 Series.

April 15, 1966: Killebrew laces his 1,000th hit. It took him 1,112 games.

May 12, 1966: Killebrew becomes the new all-time leader for most PA in a career without any sacrifice hits. (Not including pre-1894 guys, as SH wasn’t tracked back then). He gets the distinction when Orlando Cepeda lays down a bunt on this day in a game that had nothing to do with Killebrew.

May 21, 1966: Harmon Killebrew hits his 300th home run.

June 9, 1966: The Twins hit five home runs in one inning. Naturally, Killebrew is one of the home run hitters. It’s nearly six homers, but a fly ball by Jimmie Hall lands at the top of the outfield wall, not over it.

July 7, 1967 White Sox 2, Twins 1. This has got to be one of the hardest loses Killebrew ever played in. The Twins led 1-0 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when shortstop Zoilo Versalles makes an error with the bases loaded that lets the tying and winning runs score. You rarely see a walk-off error where the tying and winning runs score. That said, the Twins only had two hits all game themselves.

August 9, 1967: Senators 9, Twins 7 (20). Killebrew plays the first 12 innings of this marathon, going 2-for-6. According to WPA, this game features the best relief stint in Minnesota history (Al Worthington, 1.176 WPA over eight shutout innings), and the best in Washington/Texas franchise history (Darold Knowles with a 1.231 WPA over ten shutout innings). Neither reliever factored in the decision.

August 25, 1967: Dean Chance throws a no-hitter for the Twins, winning 2-1. Both Minnesota runs score with Killebrew at the plate, but he gets zero RBIs. One run scores on an error and another on a balk. If not for those incidents, Chance would have the misfortunate of tossing a nine-inning no-hitter and losing.

April 13, 1968: Jim Perry has a nice first start to the year, throwing a complete game shutout while hitting a home run. Killebrew helps by going 2-for-4, but it’s not needed apparently.

May 8, 1968: Perfect Game for Catfish Hunter. A’s win 4-0 as Killebrew is 0-for-3 with three Ks.

September 9, 1968: It’s not as impressive as Hunter’s perfecto, but it’s impressive nevertheless: Luis Tiant of the Indians fans 16 Twins in a 6-1 win. Killebrew comes to the plate once as a pinch hitter and draws a walk.

April 22, 1969: Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers makes his first start in the big leagues, and tosses a complete game shutout against the Twins. Killebrew was 1-for-4 with a double.

April 27, 1969: Harmon Killebrew hits his 400th home run.

June 4, 1969: One of my all-time favorite baseball factoids: Rod Carew and Cesar Tovar both steal home in one plate appearance—a Killebrew plate appearance. Carew stole second, third, and home in that one at-bat. Yes, I mentioned this on Monday.

September, 7, 1969: Harmon Killebrew posts a career-high seven RBIs in one game. He’s 2-for-3 with two home runs.

October 1, 1969: Harmon Killebrew hits his 393rd and final home run of the 1960s. It’s the most by anyone in the decade, and the most by one batter in one decade between Babe Ruth in the 1920s and Mark McGwire in the 1990s.

October 4, 1969: The Twins take on the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS. In Game One, the O’s win 4-3 in 12 innings. Killebrew goes hitless but walks three times. A Boog Powell homer in the bottom of the ninth sends into extra frames. A homer by Mark Belanger, of all people, also helps the Orioles carry the day.

October 5, 1969: Game Two of the ALCS: Orioles win 1-0 in 11 innings as Dave McNally tosses a complete game shutout. Killebrew was 0-for-3 with a pair of walks. After this, the Twins will be crushed in Game Three. So it’s a sweep, albeit a very tightly played one for the first two games.

April 25, 1970: A weird play came in this 4-3 win for the Twins over the Tigers. Detroit pitcher Earl Wilson made it all the way to third base on a dropped third strike. After Wilson fanned on a swinging strike three in the dirt for the inning’s third out, the Twins began walking off the field. Detroit’s third base coach told Wilson to run for first, and by the time Minnesota knew what was going on, Wilson had made it to third. As it happens, Killebrew was the third baseman that day.

May 31, 1970: Harmon Killebrew hits his third career walk-off home run. Twins beat the Yankees 7-6 on his solo shot off Lindy McDaniel in the tenth inning. As it happens, each of his first three walk-offs came against the Yankees.

September 21, 1970: A fourth-inning walk to Harmon Killebrew is the only thing preventing Vida Blue from being the second A’s pitcher in three years to toss a perfect game against the Twins. He retires all the other batters he faces en route to a no-hit victory.

August 10, 1971: Harmon Killebrew hits his 500th career home run. And then he gets No. 501 for good measure. As it happens, it’s the same day SABR is founded in New York.

September 1, 1971: Harmon Killebrew plays third base for the final time.

September 3, 1971: Killebrew hits a pinch-hit grand slam.

May 12, 1972: It’s the longest day of Killebrew’s career: Brewers 4, Twins 3 (22). Killebrew went 0-for-7 with three walks.

May 28, 1972: Harmon Killebrew hits his 11th and final career grand slam.

July 14, 1972: Harmon Killebrew receives the only walk-off walk of his career.

May 28, 1973: Harmon Killebrew, a month shy of his 37th birthday, hits his last triple.

May 4, 1974: The Twins retire Killebrew’s number, which is an especially high honor given that he still plays for them.

September 11, 1974: Harmon Killebrew hits his fourth and final career walk-off home run. It’s the only one not against the Yankees, as a two-run Killebrew homer in the 10th inning gives the Twins a 5-3 win over Oakland. It’s Killebrew’s 559th and final home run with the Senators/Twins franchise.

September 28, 1974: When Nolan Ryan throws one of his seven career no-hitters, Harmon Killebrew comes to the plate as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning. Ryan walks him, one of eight walks he allows on the day.

October 2, 1974: Harmon Killebrew last plays for the Minnesota Twins. He fans as a ninth-inning pinch hitter. He’ll join the Royals for his 22nd and final season next year.

May 23, 1975: Harmon Killebrew has his 46th and final multiple home run game.

June 8, 1975: Killebrew is on hand for a great pitcher’s duel between Steve Busby and Jim Palmer. The Orioles beat the Royals 1-0 when Palmer’s one-hitter is more dominant than Busby’s four-hitter. Killebrew fans twice.

September 23, 1975: He gets his last hit, and shortly after is thrown out, officially trying to steal third. As noted in Monday’s column, what happened was he began talking to second base umpire Ron Luciano, wandered off the bag, and got picked off.

September 26, 1975: Harmon Killebrew plays his final game.

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12 years ago

Great article and a great collection of pieces of an awesome career.

One quick note the Twins have since had at least one walk of grand slam.  Jason Kuble hit one in 2006 in the 12th inning.  I was at that game and it was one of the most amazing games I have ever seen in person.


Dave Studeman
12 years ago

Terrific piece, Chris.  Thanks.

Harmon Killebrew was my first favorite player, primarily because I managed to get his autograph in Cooperstown back in 1966 when the Twins played a Hall of Fame game.  He was very kind to all of us nagging kids.

Diane James
12 years ago

My dad was the one who got me interested in baseball. I was sort of a tomboy back in
Minnesota in the 60’s.  But my 1st real interest in a ballplayer was Harom Killebrew. All those games so many years ago and I see them so clearly. As if it were just yesterday. I’m now 58 years young and when I heard the news today on Killebrew I sat stunned and cried like a baby. I had lost the one person outside of my dad that had been a hero to me.
RIP Mr. Killebrew. RIP

12 years ago

Just read an excellent article written by Tommy John, on his experiences w/ Harmon, RIP….. http://bit.ly/imlFkK

12 years ago

I think the highlights should include his home run for the AL in the All Star game played at Detroit.  If I recall correctly, homers by him and Reggie Jackson accounted for one of the few AL wins at that time.  One of those homers went out over the top of the stadium.  Even if Harmon didn’t hit that one, he had done it before.

12 years ago

Killebrew didn’t hit his first homer on June 23, 1954.  You were close though – it was June 23, 1955 when he would have been “Still just 18 yrs old”.