Harmon Killebrew, the Hall of Famer who developed the strength to hit home runs by lifting 10-gallon milk cans as an Idaho farmhand and grew up to be one of the most feared sluggers of his generation, died Tuesday morning at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., four days after announcing that he was ending treatment for esophageal cancer. He was 74.
His death was announced by the Minnesota Twins, which featured him as the centerpiece of their franchise through the 1960s and early ’70s.
Killebrew said in December that he had begun treatment for the cancer at a Mayo Clinic branch near his home. Last Friday, in a statement released by the Twins, he said that his doctors had told him his illness was incurable and that “with profound sadness” he was ending treatment.
“I have exhausted all options,” he said.
Killebrew hit 573 home runs in 22 major league seasons, starting with the Washington Senators and continuing with the organization when it moved to Minnesota and became the Twins. He set an American League record for right-handed batters that endured for more than three decades, until Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees hit his 574th home run in 2009. When Killebrew turned to broadcasting in 1975, only Babe Ruth had hit more home runs in the A.L. At his death, he was No. 11 in career major league home runs.
Killebrew possessed a mild temperament, but his ability to crush a baseball, and the easy play on his name, brought him the nickname Killer. In 1962, he became the first of only four batters to hit a ball over the left-field roof at Tiger Stadium. In 1967, he hit the longest home run in the history of Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn., a drive off the California Angels’ Lew Burdette that traveled some 530 feet.
Killebrew complemented his physical talent with fierce concentration.
“I always tried to watch the pitcher and his complete windup from the moment he had the ball in his glove all the way through his motion, and tried to follow it all the way out of his hand, all the way to home plate,” he told Fay Vincent, a former baseball commissioner, in Vincent’s oral history, “We Would Have Played for Nothing.“
As Killebrew put it, “I could pretty much tell when he released the ball what kind of pitch it was going to be and where it might end up at the plate.”
In addition to his 573 home runs, Killebrew had 2,086 hits — not a single one on a bunt, by his account — and 1,584 R.B.I. His late-career at-bats were often as the designated hitter. In his last season, 1975, he played for the Kansas City Royals.
After his playing days ended, he was a broadcaster for the Oakland Athletics and the Angels as well as the Twins, and he owned an insurance company and an auto dealership.
In the last decade, he promoted hospice care and, as he said in his statement, he was “educating people on its benefits.” He chose to receive hospice care after ending cancer treatments.
“I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with Nita by my side,” Killebrew said, referring to his second wife. His survivors also include nine children from his two marriages.