Sam

Posts Tagged ‘Harmon Killebrew’

Why yesterday’s players were better

In Uncategorized on June 15, 2011 at 12:12 am

I don’t know how many times I have gotten into arguments with people who insist that professional baseball players nowadays are stronger, faster and overall better athletes than ballplayers of an earlier era. Even experienced broadcasters and analysts adhere to this belief. The facts however just don’t support this mis-guided point of view. A case in point: in the history of Tiger Stadium from 1912-1999 only four players hit the ball over the left-field roof: Frank Howard, Harmon Killebrew, Cecil Fielder and Mark McGwire. McGwire’s scandalous record speaks for itself. Although Cecil Fielder’s name has never been linked to steroids he did play in an era which was defined by steroid use and it would not, therefore, be unreasonable to suspect that he may also have used steroids at some point. Frank Howard and Harmon Killebrew, on the other hand, played when performance enhancing drugs were non-existent in American professional sports, and one could argue that they are the only two players who legitimately hit the ball out of Tiger Stadium in its 97 year history.

Similarly only three players have managed to hit the ball completely out of Dodger Stadium: Mike Piazza , Mark McGwire and Willie Stargell who in fact did it twice. Only Stargell’s and McGwire’s drives left the park on the fly. Piazza’s HR hit the roof in left field and bounced into the parking lot. Once again, McGwire’s record speaks for itself. Was Piazza’s home-run legitimate ? Probably not, for he also has long been suspected of using steroids. Willie Stargell on steroids ? Forget it.

In fact, if you google the older ballparks and the longest HRs in those parks, you will see that the longest HRs were hit by players going back one or two generations e.g. a Ted Williams HR at Fenway in 1946 that was measured at 502 ft – regarded as the longest ever HR at Fenway – or a Dave Kingman shot at Wrigley Field in 1976 which almost hit the scoreboard. In the history of Shea Stadium 1964-2007 only one player ever hit a ball into the third deck in LF. That was Tommie Agee in April of 1969. Not even Mark McGwire on steroids could accomplish that.

If today’s players are better athletes then why don’t they hit the ball as far as players in the “old” days ?

The answer: they can’t.

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Harmon Killebrew: Gentleman farmer

In Uncategorized on May 17, 2011 at 5:15 pm


One of the icons of my childhood, Harmon Killebrew, died yesterday. Along with Frank Robinson, Frank Howard, Mickey Mantle et. al Killebrew was one of the preeminent sluggers of the game in the 1960s and early 1970s. Year in year out his name was near the top of the list of American league HR leaders and only Babe Ruth had more consecutive 40 hr seasons than Killebrew (eight).

Growing up in the Bay Area I had limited opportunity to see Killebrew play. I probably went to a few A’s – Twins game as a kid but I don’t really remember. I was after all a Giants fan. However, several years after he retired, Killebrew became the color man on the A’s telecasts. Killebrew was a pleasure to listen to on the A’s broadcasts. He had a mellifluous voice without ever so much as a hint of anger or indignation –at a blown call or a mental mistake by a player on the field. As a player Killebrew shunned wrist bands and batting gloves when they became popular in the late 1960s and stepped into the batters box with the austerity of a monk. So as a broadcaster with the A’s did he refuse to clutter pauses with meaningless statistics or incessant chatter but simply offered his analysis of play when necessary.

After several years of broadcasting A’s games Killebrew retired to his farm in Oregon. Somehow the image of Killebrew as gentleman farmer seemed to fit. Harmon Killebrew was a minimalist, and this came across in everything he did, his tape measure home runs and 9 kids the exceptions.

When I read this morning of Killebrew’s death, the first thing that came to mind is how different the game is now. Nowadays a player of Killebrew’s stature is inevitably involved in contract disputes, free agency, the occasional paternity suit, or, as is more likely, steroid use.

Soft spoken sluggers like Harmon Killebrew belonged to another, better era.

Thanks for the wonderful memories Harmon. You will be missed.

The Old Met

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2010 at 6:07 pm

The Metrodome has been in the news lately. The roof collapsed after a heavy snowfall in the Minneapolis-St Paul area earlier this month forcing the Vikings to move their remaining two home games to another venue. And I read today that hundreds of high school and college baseball games, as well as the Twins winter workouts, will have to be moved or subject to cancellation because the damage will not be repaired until March.

I have always regarded the Metrodome with particular disdain, one reason being that it displaced a venerable stadium in Metropolitan Stadium. Metropolitan Stadium was home to the Twins and Vikings for many years and the scene of some memorable Games including the 1965 All star game and World Series, as well countless Vikings playoff games. It was one of those picturesque stadiums of the 1960s, with grass and fences, as opposed to astro-turf and walls, a look which came to dominate stadiums in the mid-1970s and 1980s. For this reason, Metropolitan Stadium was always one of my favorite venues for the NBC Saturday Game Of The Week.

The great Vikings teams of the 60s and 70s were synonymous with Metropolitan stadium. When I think back to those teams I see the barren playing field, the snow piled up on the sidelines and Alan Page’s vaporized breath as he stands in the huddle.

I never understood why Metropolitan Stadium ceased to be good enough for the Twins and why the Vikings suddenly could no longer play in cold weather. By 1980 the stadium was in need of repairs but renovations -along the lines of the the old Yankee Stadium remodeling from 1973-1976 – could have been undertaken. Instead Metropolitan Stadium fell victim to the civic craze for domed sports and entertainment facilities.

I have often considered re-locating to Minneapolis. I am not sure Tokyo is right for me and California, my home state, is in crisis. In Minnesota I am sure I would find solid midwestern, American values, good schools and affordable home prices. The cold winters do not bother me. Were Metropolitan Stadium still in use I would be there in a heartbeat.

As long as the Metrodome stands, however, the move is on hold.