Thursday, December 3, 2009

All-Time Twins Team: Designated Hitter

Baseball purists will chafe at the presence of a DH on my All-Time Twins team. Some ardent Twins' supporters will blanch because I'm putting a guy on the all-time team who played a grand total of 158 games at DH over his career. However, I am forced to slot Harmon Killebrew, the greatest of Minnesota Twins, as a DH because I cannot put him anywhere else.

Harmon moved around the diamond throughout his 21 seasons with the Senators/Twins franchise. He played 969 games at first base, 791 at third base, and 471 in left field. However, the primary reason why Harmon is remembered so fondly by Twins' fans is because of his offensive exploits. Reason '1a' is because he was, and remains to this day, one of the nicest men to ever put on a uniform.

Killebrew was signed by the Washington Senators as an 18-year-old "Bonus Baby," and was forced to remain with the Major League club due to the rules of the day. As a result, Killebrew spent the 1954 and 1955 seasons in Washington and barely saw any action (93 at bats, 4 HR, 10 RBI in total). It wasn't until 1956 that he was able to gain some seasoning in the minor leagues, and Killebrew spent the majority of the 1956, 1957, and 1958 seasons away from Washington. In the Major Leagues to stay in 1959, Killebrew showed his prodigious power as a 23-year-old, knocking out a league-best 42 homers and adding 105 RBI for an awful Washington club. 

The Senators arrived in the Twin Cities in 1961 and were christened the Minnesota Twins. They had a legitimate star in Killebrew anchoring the lineup. In 1961, Killebrew hit .288/.405/.606 with 46 HR and 122 RBI. This season was incredible by any stretch of the imagination; however, the Yankees' M&M Boys of Maris and Mantle were putting up pretty solid offensive numbers of their own. Killebrew would go on to lead the American League in homers the next three seasons.

During the Twins' magical 1965 season, Killebrew was hurt in the second half of the season with a broken elbow, but returned in time for the World Series. He also was a major contributor to the Twins consecutive AL West Division titles in 1969 and 1970.

Killebrew was simply one of the most feared hitters in the American League. In addition to his power displays, Killebrew also managed to find ways to reach base via the walk. In the eleven seasons between 1961 and 1971, Killebrew walked at least 100 times in seven seasons, leading the AL four times. With the power came the strikeouts, and Harmon was punched-out 1,699 times in his Major League career.

His defense was average at best at first base and below-average at third base, which is also one reason why he is the DH on my team. Had the AL adopted the DH rule in the 1973 season, Killebrew would have likely served in this role far longer than he did.

In 21 seasons with the Senators/Twins, Killebrew's offensive numbers were outstanding:
  • 277 doubles, 559 HR and 1,540 RBI in 2,329 games
  • Six AL home run titles
  • Three AL RBI titles
  • Led AL in walks four times
  • 11 All-Star Game appearances
  • AL MVP in 1969
Harmon signed with the Kansas City Royals after the 1974 season and played one season with the Royals. He retired after the 1975 season with 573 career home runs, which ranked fifth all-time at the time of his retirement. He ranked behind only Babe Ruth in career AL homers and was the leading right-handed-hitting HR man. Why it took him five years to get into the Hall of Fame after his retirement is impossible to fathom, but he was finally inducted in 1984.

Of course, the steroids era has dropped Killebrew to tenth all-time in career HRs, but has also forced baseball historians to re-examine the accomplishments of the man from Idaho who electrified many an upper Midwest night.  

Also Considered: Chili Davis

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