Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Harmon Killebrew, Greatest Mormon Baseball Player, Dies

Harmon Killebrew died of esophageal cancer yesterday.  He is the greatest Mormon baseball player to ever live.  Let's explore.

They called him Killer because his name was Killebrew but his personality was the exact opposite.  There are hundreds of stories out there about how kind and gentle and approachable Killer was.  But at the plate the man lived up to the name.  As the incomparable Joe Posnanski points out, he was inhumanly strong and hit home runs at a pace greater than Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Sammy Sosa.  He was born to rake.

In his career he hit 573 home runs, including eight 40 homer seasons (and one 39 homer season), which is good for 11th all time.  Though the list is now polluted with steroid users, at the time he retired he was in the top five or six fifth all time.  His career slash stats are .256/.376/.509, which means that while he wasn't a high average guy, he did the things which are actually important really well, i.e. get on base and hit with power.  In his MVP year of 1969 he had a 1.011 OPS, led the league in on-base percentage, hit 49 home runs, and led the league in intentional walks.  He was voted to the Hall of Fame in 1984 (it inexplicably took four tries to get voted into the Hall, which is more evidence that the BBWAA should not be solely in charge of that process).  He did all this in an era of depressed offense, which is reflected in his career OPS+ of 143, which is about the same as A-Rod, Vlad Guerrero, Willy McCovey, and Mike Schmidt.

There has always been a rumor that Killer was the model for the MLB logo, though it is not entirely clear.  You can read up about it here.  Killebrew always maintained that it was him, and the man that supposedly designed it maintained that was just a composite of a lot of different batters.  In any case, he is an iconic figure in baseball, the face of Minnesota Twins, and, in my opinion, one of the mythical "inner circle" Hall of Famers.

Dale Murphy was a pretty great centerfielder and has a good case for the Hall of Fame, Jacoby Ellsbury is a Red Sox which automatically makes him capital-G Great, Jeff Kent is one of the great offensive second basemen of all time, Bryce Harper is quickly gaining legend as perhaps the greatest prospect ever, and when all is said and done, Roy Halladay may end up taking the title of greatest Mormon baseball player of all time from Killebrew and leave Killer just as the greatest Mormon hitter of all time, but for now Harmon Killebrew stands alone, and baseball and Mormons have lost a great one.


Architect said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Architect said...

It is with joy that those with great accomplishments and long life are welcomed into the rest of our Lord. Thank you for sharing these baseball facts.

Today I am mourning with good friends as we part with one of my cubs (I was a den leader years ago). He was soft spoken and kind. He was in the shadow of two older brothers and a younger brother and sister. This young man had a full life ahead of him. I pray for the Balm of Gilead to heal our wounded hearts.

Shawn O. said...

I expected a good post from you on this subject, Jacob S., when I heard the news. Glad you didn't disappoint.

Architect, I am sorry for the necessary pain that accompanies death. I pray that you and your friends find comfort quickly.

Kent Larsen said...

Hmmm, I think you may be heaping a bit more praise on some of the Mormons who have played or are playing in the majors.

In particular:

* Dale Murphy was much better than average, but isn't Hall of Fame material. IIRC his initial eligibility has run out, leaving his only chance at the Hall from the veteran's committee, where the nice guys like Murphy have a last shot. Don't count on him making the Hall.

* You left out Jack Morris, who has a couple of years left on his eligibility for the Hall, and looks like he could just make it.

* Ellsbury is inactive (like Killebrew) and is a bit too early in his career for any real evaluation of his merit. It is a good sign that he made the All-Star team as an alternate this year.

* Jeff Kent benefitted significantly from being next to Bonds in the lineup. He was good, but I think, like Murphy, he will be short of the Hall of Fame.

* It will be very interesting to see if Harper lives up to the hype. So far, from what I've read, he has come across as an entitled jerk playing in the minors. The Nationals have been wise to keep him in the minors for now, and I hope he can grow up before he makes the majors instead of ending up an embarrassment.

* Unfortunately, Halladay has become inactive just before he reached his most impressive. Short of him falling apart completely or becoming involved in a scandal, I suspect he will make the Hall of Fame. Truly a fantastic pitcher.

* There is one other possible candidate for the "greatest Mormon baseball player" -- Dennis Eckersley was apparently baptized as a youth, although his family was active for just a couple of years when he was a teenager. It will be hard for any Mormon baseball player to top the second best closer of all time (behind Mariano Rivera, of course).

Jacob S. said...

Kent, thanks for reading and commenting. I actually went a little crazy and wrote up two more really long posts searching for the second greatest Mormon baseball player beyond Killebrew, one about hitters and one about pitchers. I talk about Murphy and Kent and Morris and Eckersley and Halladay and the rest. I'd love your input on those. I decided to expressly reject activity/inactivity as beyond my ability to know or judge, and just go on baptism.

I agree with you about Harper. I had high hopes that this phenom would also carry himself like Murphy but he is instead carrying himself more like Kent. He needs to stay in them minors for a while to develop his maturity, if not his physical game.

As for Ellsbury, he is undoubtedly one of the five best CF in the game right now, and he is known as a dreamboat, but when your breakout year is at age 27, like he is now, you are obviously more likely by a long shot to be known as a really good player than an all time great. As a Sox fan, I'll take it gladly.