A Prayer for Harmon Killebrew

Posted: 5th January 2011 by Joe Guzzardi in MLB

In 1956, Sport Magazine surveyed all 16 major league managers to find out who they picked as their most reliable clutch hitters.

For the most part, the answers were predictable. Casey Stengel chose Yogi Berra; Pinky Higgins, Ted Williams; Bill Rigney, Willie Mays and Fred Hutchinson, Stan Musial.

Some responses were surprising. Cincinnati Redlegs’ pilot Birdie Tebbetts picked Johnnie Temple instead of Ted Kluszewski and Frank Robinson while Bucky Harris tapped Ray Boone over Al Kaline or perennial .300 hitter Harvey Kuenn.

One pick was incomprehensible. Washington Senators’ manager Chuck Dressen selected Ernie Oravetz. Don’t feel badly if you don’t remember or never heard of Oravetz, a 145 pound, 5’4” reserve outfielder who in his two year career (1955-1956), hit no home runs and only batted in 36 runners. Adding to the oddity of Dressen’s choice, in 1955, Ortavetz hit .171 in 35 pinch hit appearances. By the end of 1956, Ortavez was out of baseball for good.

Maybe Dressen was having fun at reporter Milton Richmond’s expense. What Dressen told Richmond for the record was: “For a kid his size, he certainly did a man’s job in the clutch.”

Looking at the 1956 Senators’ roster, Dressen had several hitters that his 15 managerial peers certainly would have picked over Ortavez in critical situations: Clint Courtney, Pete Runnels (a future two-time batting champion), Roy Sievers (the 1957 American League home run and RBI leader), Jim Lemon (back-to-back 100 RBI seasons in 1959 and 1960) and the incomparable Hall of Famer slugger Harmon Killebrew who before he hung up his spikes would hit 537 four-baggers with 40 or more eight times

The sad news that Killebrew is suffering from deadly esophageal cancer has put him in the forefront of our thoughts and prayers.

In 1956, Killebrew was three years away from his break out 1959 season when he blasted 42 homers and knocked in 102. By 1960, Killebrew appeared on the cover of the Senators’ yearbook.

Here, in part, is how the Senators’ described Killebrew who still had 16 spectacular baseball years ahead of him:

Baseball’s most exciting new figure, Harmon burst into full stardom last year. He smashed 29 homers in the first three months and for a while threatened many of Babe Ruth’s home run records for a season. His tape measure clouts earned him the starting job for the American League in the All Star Game in Pittsburgh.

Harmon himself was so outstanding a high school footballer that he received a number of collegiate scholarship offers. The original Harmon Clayton Killebrew, grandfather of the star third baseman, was a legendary strongman, reputed to have been the heavy weight wrestling champion of the Illinois detachment of the Union Army during the Civil War.

During emotionally trying times when family and old friends struggle for their lives, we can often find comfort in remembering them during younger, happier days.

Drop Killebrew a line:

Minnesota Twins

1 Twins Way

Minneapolis, Minnesota 55403

  1. alvy says:

    Thanks for posting this information Joe, and the thoughtful blog.

    Harmon Killebrew is one of the great ballplayers I had the awesome pleasure of seeing play in person. He was one of those rare players who took your breath away when he came to bat. He seemed to have muscles on his muscles, lol and was as strong as anyone that ever played the game before and after.

    Much like Mickey Mantle in this respect, each swing that Killebrew took was such a powerful threat to knock one out, and even when they missed it was something to see.

    Harmon Killebrew’s wonderful post-playing career as a tv host and announcer showed that he was not only an amazing athlete, but a very intelligent and articulate man. It is a sad and tragic irony that the esophageal cancer might affect his ability to speak at the very least. Harmon has surely already had his battles with serious health ailments over the years. I just hope that he will conquer this present illness one more time. God Bless you Harmon Killebrew. There are many of us out there praying for you.