Flashback Fridays: Killebrew Excelled in Charlotte
Hall of Fame Slugger Hit .325 with Hornets in 1956
November 12, 2021
Before he was considered one of the game’s greatest power-hitting sluggers of all time, Harmon Killebrew made his way through Charlotte in 1956 -- just two years after being discovered as a 17-year-old.
The Washington Senators signed Killebrew in 1954 under Major League Baseball's Bonus Rule. The rule,
HARMON KILLEBREW Before he was considered one of the game’s greatest power-hitting sluggers of all time, Harmon Killebrew made his way through Charlotte in 1956 -- just two years after being discovered as a 17-year-old.
The Washington Senators signed Killebrew in 1954 under Major League Baseball's Bonus Rule. The rule, which required the Senators to keep Killebrew in the majors for two seasons (1954 & 1955), saw the young home run star make his major league debut six days before turning 18 years old on June 23, 1954. At the time, he was the youngest active player in the majors.
Killebrew recorded his first of over 2,000 career major league hits on August 23 (1954) and went on to appear in nine games in with the Senators that year. He was back with the big league club in 1955 and appeared in 33 games with the team. He hit his first of 573 career major league home runs on June 24, 1955.
1956 SEASON IN CHARLOTTE After spending parts of two seasons in the majors with the Washington Senators (1954-55), Killebrew found himself in Charlotte with the Hornets in 1956 after his two-year bonus period expired. As a 19-year-old, Killebrew shined early on in the Queen City in 1956. His solid play earned him a trip back to the majors in May and he hit two home runs in a game with the Senators on May 29 of that year.
After early season struggles with the Senators, Killebrew returned to Charlotte in June and finished the year with the Hornets. Overall that year -- his only one in Charlotte -- he hit .325 with 15 home runs and 63 RBIs in just 70 games. The 1956 Hornets, members of the South Atlantic League, went 79-61 in the standings that season and Killebrew played a part in the team’s success.
PROLIFIC SLUGGER Killebrew had his big breakout season in 1959, hitting an American League-best 42 home runs. He had 28 of his 42 home runs by the All-Star break that season and started for the American League at the All-Star Game that year, his first of 13 All-Star selections in his career.
Killebrew was a star in Washington, and later in Minnesota. After the 1960 season, the Senators left town for Minnesota and Killebrew continued to shine as one of the game's best. Year after year, his offensive power numbers were among the top in the game. He consistently hit 40+ home runs a season and 100+ RBIs.
NOVEMBER 12, 1969 Killebrew, in his ninth season with the Minnesota Twins in 1969, won the American League Most Valuable Player Award. It was his 16th year in the majors and the award was very well-deserved.
MVP SEASON The Idaho native hit .276 with 153 hits, 20 doubles, two triples, 49 home runs and 140 RBIs. He led the league in home runs, RBIs, walks, intentional walks and on-base percentage that season, playing in all 162 games. The season marked his sixth as the American League leader in homers, his seventh with 40 or more home runs and seventh with over 100 RBIs.
MAJOR LEAGUE CAREER He played a total of 22 seasons in the majors. For his career, Killebrew finished with a .256 batting average with 2,086 hits, 573 home runs and 1,584 RBIs. He was a 13-time All-Star, a six-time home run leader, three-time RBI leader and an American League MVP in 1969. At the time of his retirement in 1975, he ranked fifth all-time in home runs. He is currently 12th all-time.
HALL OF FAME Before he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY in 1984, Killebrew was already a member of the Charlotte Baseball Hall of Famer. Killebrew was first inducted into the Charlotte Baseball Hall of Fame as a member of the first class in 1982. That year, Hoyt Wilhelm, Tony Oliva, Minnie Mendoza, Phil Howser, Frank Packard, Roberto Estalella and the 1965 Post 9 Team were all honored as inductees.
Two years later, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his fourth year on the ballot. He once again joined a great class of players, going into the Hall of Fame with Pee Wee Reese, Luis Aparicio, Don Drysdale and Rick Ferrell.
REMEMBERING HARMON Sadly, Killebrew passed away on May 17, 2011 at the age of 74.
Following his death, the Twins released the following statement:
"No individual has ever meant more to the Minnesota Twins organization and millions of fans across Twins Territory than Harmon Killebrew. Harmon will long be remembered as one of the most prolific home run hitters in the history of the game and the leader of a group of players who helped lay the foundation for the long-term success of the Twins franchise and Major League Baseball in the Upper Midwest. However, more importantly Harmon'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."