The Grace of Harmon Killebrew

Harmon Killebrew’s very public farewell is both sad and inspiring. The Hall of Fame slugger, “Killer” to a generation of fans who marveled at his prodigious power, announced yesterday that he could no longer battle the fury of esophageal cancer and was prepared to die.   

Killebrew was always a soft-spoken, modest man — so atypical of the great home run hitters, bloated with bombast, ego, and at times, steroids. Veteran broadcaster Bob Wolff, who first met Killebrew when he was a rookie with the Washington Senators, told Richard Sandomir in today’s New York Times,  “I can’t think of any athlete who is more modest. He was so humble and honest. I don’t know if he enjoyed the fame he had.”

That any public figure would openly divulge they’re prepared to die is rare if not extraordinary — especially in an age when most celebrities find it painful to even apologize for blatant and offensive acts (“I’d like to apologize to anyone who I may have offended. . .”). Killebrew’s grace, courage, and raw humility is so admirable. I hope he is remembered for such qualities as much, if not more, than the 573 home runs he launched during his storied career.

Nobody has an obligation to say goodbye to the world when the end is near. Death is the most private of matters. But for Harmon Killebrew, a folk hero to his adopted Minnesota and all who marvel at the altar of the long ball gods, it was just the decent and honest thing to do.

What a rare bird. Bless you, Harmon Killebrew.

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