Harmon Killebrew enters hospice, ends cancer battle

1:48 PM, May 14, 2011   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Harmon Killebrew announced Friday that he has ended treatment and entered hospice care, effectively surrendering in his battle against esophageal cancer.

"It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end," Killebrew said in a statement released by the Minnesota Twins. "With the continued love and support of my wife, Nita, I have exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease. My illness has progressed beyond my doctors' expectation of cure."

Killebrew first revealed that he had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer in December of 2010. He took an aggressive approach to treatment and was scheduled to throw out the first pitch for the Twins 2011 opener. As it turned out, Killebrew was too sick to take part.  

"I am comforted by the fact that I am surrounded by my family and friends. I thank you for the outpouring of concern, prayers and encouragement that you have shown me. I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with Nita by my side."

During a 22-year baseball career in which he played for the Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins, and Kansas City Royals, Killebrew was second only to Babe Ruth in American League  home runs, and retired as the AL career leader in home runs by a right-handed batter.

That mark has since been broken by Alex Rodriguez, but the Yankee's third baseman has been dogged by reports of steroid use.

The man known during his playing days as "the Killer" made 11 All-Star appearances and had 8 seasons where he hit 40 or more homers.

Killebrew was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984, but was as noted in recent years for his contributions to the Twin Cities community and public outreach efforts.

Harmon Killebrew lives in the Phoenix area and was receiving treatment at a branch of the Mayo Clinic nearby after his diagnosis in December. He expressed optimism at the time, saying he expected to make a full recovery while acknowledging he was in "perhaps the most difficult battle" of his life.

Killebrew was able to travel to Fort Myers, Fla., in March for his annual stint as a guest instructor at spring training with the Twins. He was in good spirits and appeared healthy, only thinner, quipping that manager Ron Gardenhire gave him the OK to show up a little late. He said he relished the opportunity to immerse himself in baseball and divert his focus from the treatment and the disease.

But his plan to throw out the first pitch at the team's home opener in April was scrapped. He said then in a statement that such a trip would disrupt his treatment schedule, though he remained hopeful for a recovery.

Twins spokesman Kevin Smith said there was no prognosis given by Killebrew's doctors for how much longer he might live. Instead of enduring chemotherapy, he'll now be kept as comfortable as possible to deal with pain. Smith is one of a handful of Twins officials who have been in contact with the Killebrew and his family over the last few months.

In the plaza outside Target Field, there is a giant bronze glove where fans pose for pictures. It is the same distance from home plate, 520 feet, as that longest home run Killebrew ever hit. His No. 3 jersey is retired, and there's a statue in his likeness outside the ballpark.

Killebrew has maintained a regular presence around the Twins over the years He made an effort to get to know almost all the current players, striking particularly close friendships with Michael Cuddyer and Jim Thome among others.

When Thome passed Killebrew on the career home run list last season, Killebrew issued a gracious congratulatory message. His nickname, "The Killer," defied his humble, gentle demeanor, but he sure could crush a baseball with that big bat of his.

"I didn't have evil intentions," Killebrew once said, "but I guess I did have power."

His home run totals turned out to be that much more impressive, given the smaller parks, watered-down pitching staffs and juiced balls and players that came in the decades after he retired.

Though Killebrew has been passed in recent years by Alex Rodriguez and Thome on the homer list to fall out of the top 10, he ought to be in 11th place for some time, particularly as dominant young pitchers have taken control of this post-steroid era in baseball. With Manny Ramirez's sudden retirement last month, the next closest active players are Vladimir Guerrero and Chipper Jones with 440.

Albert Pujols, with 415 homers at age 31, might be the next threat to reach Killebrew's mark

(Copyright 2011 by Associated Press and KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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