by Randy Ooney
My Nickel’s Worth by Randy Ooney
It was 1961. My Dad was employed by P & H Company at 1400 Harmon Place near Loring Park in Minneapolis. The city had been disappointed a few years prior when Horace Stoneham decided to fly the Giants over us to set up shop in San Francisco. But then we got word that a guy I never heard of named Calvin Griffith was moving his baseball team, formerly known as the Washington Senators, to Minneapolis. Of course I had heard of the Senators. It was common knowledge back then that Washington was “First on land, First on sea, and Last in the American League”.
But the local baseball fanatics had hopes. The team had potential with a young Cuban shortstop named “Zorro”?? The 1959 Rookie of the year - Bob Allison, a decent starting staff led by Camilo Pascual, and a young slugger who came out of nowhere in 1959 to blast 42 home runs. He had not yet attained the status of our 1951 Miller star for one month, Willie Mays, Yankee switch hitting slugger, Mickey Mantle, or Hammerin’ Henry Aaron; but he was our slugger and wore Babe’s number, and had a unique surname, Killebrew. He became known as Killer to many or simply the Brew to others.
In the Spring of 1961, just a few weeks into the season, the Hopkins Dodge Plymouth dealer promoted their dealership with a personal appearance of our budding superstar, Mr. Killebrew. I don’t remember much except that I was there, along with about 40 or 50 others. There were no autograph signings or photo ops, just a meet and greet, but it was fun to see a major leaguer up close. Later that evening, my mother came home from her job at Bursch’s Café in Hopkins, just a block or so from the Dodge dealer. She had a plain piece of white paper, and on it was written - “To Douglas, Best Wishes, Harmon Killebrew.” She had obtained the first autograph I ever owned from Harmon when he stopped at Bursch’s for lunch that day. That paper was tacked to my bedroom wall for years and years. I no longer have it, I can’t remember what might have happened, but it may have gone the way of many of my baseball cards and Twins souvenirs.
Luckily, Harmon kept in touch with Twins fans for many years after leaving the dugouts of the American League. One summer day, a few years ago, Harmon and another fan favorite, Rod Carew, were appearing and signing autographs at the Best Buy store in Minnetonka. In contrast to the old Hopkins Dodge Plymouth days, this time there were over 800 fans in attendance. We got there early, and I mean three hours early, and it was lucky that we did. Unfortunately, not all who came received an autograph in the two hour window of opportunity. I was happy to receive Harmon’s autograph on the special 1984 Harmon Killebrew Day program commemorating his induction to Cooperstown, and we also received a personalized autograph on a Killebrew baseball card - “To Doug and Zhouqin, Best wishes, Harmon Killebrew.”
I can only imagine how many autographs Harmon signed over his lifetime. 50,000 ? 100,000 ? Maybe more. But every one was a neat and legible signature, something you don’t always see from celebrities. Sadly, there will be no more. Harmon hit 475 home runs in a Twins uniform. I probably saw 30-40 in person over the years at the ballpark that was on the site that is now the Mall of America. You know, that big shopping center on Killebrew Drive in Bloomington. Thank you, Harmon, for all that you have meant to me over the last 50 years.