Deering: Killebrew left us 'Killer' memories

Chattanooga Times Free Press
May 18, 2011
by Ray Deering

Veteran baseball fans around the world were saddened Tuesday by the news that slugger Harmon Killebrew has succumbed to esophageal cancer at the age of 74.

Father Time continues to overcome my boyhood heroes, and the news of Killebrew’s death touched me profoundly.

Killebrew, elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1984 after a stellar major league career, was one of the most popular players ever to don a Chattanooga Lookouts uniform. On many sultry summer nights during my teenage years I watched him use those powerful arms to pound prodigious home runs over the towering left-field wall at Engel Stadium.

“Killer,” as his teammates called him, was only 21 when he led the Southern Association in home runs in 1957. After two outstanding years in Chattanooga, Killebrew was prepared for major league stardom. The next year in Washington he led the American League in home runs with 42, and he finished his career with 573, which places him No. 11 on the all-time list.

He was voted to the AL All-Star team 11 times. He was the Most Valuable Player in 1969 and led the league in home runs six times.

Killebrew did some television work as an analyst for several teams after his retirement as a player in 1975. He later moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., where he died in Hospice care with his wife and family at his side.

As I was reminiscing about the times I watched him play as a Lookout, it dawned on me that a blissful reunion has already taken place in the Great Hereafter. That thought has lifted my spirits and even made me chuckle.

Killebrew and Cal Ermer are being reunited amid much happiness and rejoicing.

I’m sure they gave each other a big bear hug and slapped each other on the back with great gusto, and then Ermer began re-telling all those stories Killebrew heard so many times before.

Ermer, who died two summers ago at the age of 85, managed Killebrew in Chattanooga in 1957 and again in Minnesota in 1967 and 1968. Killebrew always looked upon Ermer as a mentor, and the skipper always referred to Killebrew as “my boy.”

Ermer managed many great players both in the majors and the minors. But I always sensed that Killebrew was his favorite, not only because of his ability as a player but also because he was known throughout the baseball world as one of the kindest and most humble men to play the game.

“I have never heard anyone say an unkind word about Harmon Killebrew,” Ermer would often say.

Killebrew gives Ermer credit for being instrumental in his early development as a hitter and told him so many times.

I was watching a Twins-Yankees playoff game with Ermer in my home in 2004 when the camera spotted Killebrew in the stands.

”There’s my boy,” Ermer exclaimed. “He told me right after the induction to the Hall of Fame how much he appreciated my help early in his career.

“When I first had him in 1957, Killer didn’t know the strike zone. I sent him to the bullpen every night for two weeks while the starting pitcher warmed up. He was to take his stance and call every pitch a ball or a strike. The catcher would let him know if he was right.

“That’s how he learned the strike zone. He didn’t swing at as many bad pitches, and his career took off after that.”

The two old friends will probably talk about the good times and the bad. I’m sure they will mention that painful injury Killebrew suffered in the 1968 All-Star game. Ermer could only watch in horror as his first baseman slipped on the artificial turf at the Astrodome and split his legs flat while stretching for a throw, tearing his hamstring.

“I was the third base coach for the American League that year,” Ermer would say later. “All I could think about from the dugout was his pain and the fact that our season just went down the drain.”

Killebrew was out for most of that season, and Ermer’s Twins finished in seventh place.

I can still hear the crack of the ball off Killebrew’s bat as it echoes across the decades. I can see the ball disappear over the massive scoreboard in left field. I can recall the smile on Killer’s face as he rounds the bases much to Ermer’s delight.

Thanks, Killer, for the memories. I hope you rest in peace.

Email Ray Deering at rpd272@gmail.com

Article courtesy of Chattanooga Times Free Press: http://timesfreepress.com/news/2011/may/18/deering-killebrew-left-us-killer-memories/?sportsColumns

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