Remembering ‘The Gentle Killer’

From SABR member Chris Jaffe at The Hardball Times on May 16:

[Harmon] Killebrew’s imminent demise is first and foremost a human tragedy, as it always is when someone passes, and doubly so when it’s someone who by all accounts was such a nice person. However, as one of them there mom’s basement-dwelling stat-nerd blogger-writer types, there really isn’t much I can say about Killebrew the man. Nice guy.

I can say some things about Killbrew as a player, though. On the field, he was one of the transitional players in baseball history. And he was transitional in a few different ways.

First, he was one of the first great slugging third basemen. When Killebrew first arrived in the majors in 1954, no third baseman had ever slugged 200 home runs. Harlond Clift had the most of anyone from the hot corner, with 178 (that includes any homers hit while playing any other positions). While 200 and 300 homers were less common then, 178 barely put Clift in the top 50 sluggers to date. Nowadays, the top 50 includes full-time third basemen Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, and Chipper Jones as well as several guys who spent considerable time at third, including Darrell Evans, Alex Rodriguez, and Killebrew himself.

Until the 1950s, no third baseman had ever hit more than 36 homers in a season. In 1959, in his first full season, third baseman Killebrew swatted a league-leading 42 homers. It was the first of six times he led the league, and eight times he swatted 40 homers. They didn’t all come when he played at third as the Twins kept moving him around the diamond and he spent more time at first than third in his career, but he still spent much of his time at third.

Killebrew wasn’t the first modern slugging third baseman—Eddie Mathews and Al Rosen both predated him by a few years—but he was part of the first wave.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: May 16, 2011. Last Updated: May 16, 2011.