- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Harmon Killebrew, the Minnesota Twins slugger known for his tape-measure home runs, has died at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., after battling esophageal cancer. He was 74.

The team said Killebrew died peacefully Tuesday morning with his wife, Nita, and their family at his side.

He had announced in December that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Last week, Killebrew announced that doctors had deemed his cancer incurable and he would no longer fight the “awful disease.”

Killebrew hit 573 home runs during his 22-year career, 11th-most in major league history. His eight seasons with 40 or more homers still is tied for second in league history to Babe Ruth.

“No individual has ever meant more to the Minnesota Twins organization and millions of fans across Twins territory than Harmon Killebrew,” Twins president Dave St. Peter said. He said Killebrew’s legacy “will be the class, dignity and humility he demonstrated each and every day as a Hall of Fame-quality husband, father, friend, teammate and man. The Twins extend heartfelt sympathies and prayers to the Killebrew family at this difficult time.”

Killebrew broke in with the Washington Senators in 1954 as an 18-year-old. He spent most of his first five seasons in the minors, then hit 42 homers in his first full season in 1959.

The Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961, and Killebrew hit 190 homers in his first four seasons there, including 49 in 1964.

The 11-time All-Star was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1969 after hitting 49 home runs with 140 RBIs and 145 walks, all team records that stand to this day.

“I found out early in life that I could hit a baseball farther than most players and that’s what I tried to do,” Killebrew said.

Behind their soft-spoken slugger nicknamed “The Killer,” the Twins reached the World Series for the first time in 1965 and back-to-back AL Championship Series in 1969 and 1970.

Former Twins owner Calvin Griffith used to call Killebrew the backbone of the franchise. “He kept us in business,” Griffith said.

The man whose silhouette inspired Major League Baseball’s official logo was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984, the first Twin to be enshrined. Killebrew’s No. 3 jersey was retired in 1975. Killebrew’s easygoing demeanor contrasted starkly with his nickname and standing as one of baseball’s most feared hitters.

“I didn’t have evil intentions,” Killebrew said on his website. “But I guess I did have power.”

Harmon Clayton Killebrew was born June 29, 1936, in the Idaho farm town of Payette. He was an all-state quarterback in high school, but it was his power with a baseball bat in his hands that got Killebrew noticed by Washington Senators scout Ossie Bluege.

On Killebrew’s website, Bluege recounts the story of how he signed the 17-year-old to a $30,000 contract in 1953.

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