Eat Your Wheaties
Tuesday’s lunch was greeted with the news of Hall of Fame baseball player Harmon Killebrew passing away at the age of 74. The slugger known as “Killer” hit 573 home runs during his 22-year-career and entered the hallowed halls of Cooperstown in 1984. Killebrew made his Major League debut with the Washington Senators in 1954 at the age of 18. He would play for the Senators for parts of seven seasons and then move to the Minnesota Twins. He was a Twin from 1961 to 1974 winning the 1969 AL MVP award and making . Of course you either know all of that information or you could just look it up. What you might not know is he played for the Indianapolis Indians and after 38 games was sent down…yes, down to AA? Killebrew to Double-A…say it ain’t so?
Who better to ask about the great Harmon Killebrew than Indians President Max Schumacher? In 1958 Max was the Indians Ticket Manager and spending his 2nd year in the front office. “I had a lot of different roles and one of the things I handled was the mail. It would be delivered to the players or if it accumulated over a period of time we would hand it to them as they entered the stadium.” At Bush Stadium the players entered through a door that led them by the inside ticket windows. When the players walked by, the staff would over the stacks of mail. “Most of the time it was envelopes, but sometime it was large cases. Harmon Killebrew used to get large cases of Wheaties from General Mills.” Killebrew was in Indianapolis at the age of 22 and because he was a young prospect with Major League time he had a contract with General Mills. “After a few times Harmon asked me if I wanted some Wheaties. He told me he had all he could take and asked if I wanted some Wheaties. I was more than happy to accept his offer. I was trying to get by on a small salary and now I had my breakfasts covered for a week.”
In 1958 the Washington Senators did not have a Triple-A franchise and in May of that year wanted to option Killebrew to the minors. Max explains the Indians at that time needed a third baseman and through a connection Owen Bush took the young Killebrew. “He did not play very well in the early going, but I could see that he was improving. At the time I would keep hand written stats and over his last 10 or 12 games his numbers were getting better, it just was not happening quick enough for Mr. Bush.”
Look how the times have changed in professional baseball. A 22-year-old Harmon Killebrew, who up to this point in his career had played in 113 Major League games, was not cutting it at Triple-A. Owen Bush could see that Killebrew was getting better, but he didn’t want to wait for it to happen. It was time for Killebrew to leave Indianapolis. In 38 games with the Indians he would bat .215 (26-121) with 8 extra-base hits, 14 runs, and 10 runs batted in. Since the Senators did not have a Triple-A team Killebrew was swapped for Stan Roseboro (who hit .257 with 17 extra-base hits and 21 RBI in 63 games) and sent down to Double-A Chattanooga. It was a demotion in levels, but only because it was the highest minor league level in the Senators system. Killebrew would hit .308 and 17 home runs the rest of the season in Double-A. The young Killebrew would not play for the Indians again.
Throughout the years when league owners would get together they always wanted to finish a meetings on a light and friendly note. unfortunately for Owen Bush that meant he was usually kidded about cutting a 22 year-old who would eventually turn things around. How quickly did Harmon Killebrew bounce back from his demotion? The very next year he led the AL with 42 home runs. He would go on to lead the league in home runs 5 more times and make 13 All-Star teams.
Today his picture hangs in the rafters along the third base concourse as a part of the Indians Heritage Series.
NEWS AND NOTES:
The Indians will begin a four game series tonight with the Buffalo Bisons. LHP Justin Wilson gets the ball tonight followed by starts from RHP Brad Lincoln, RHP Sean Gallagher, and LHP Rudy Owens. Hope you can join the Tribe on the radio beginning at 6:45 or tune in on your iheartradio app and find 1260 AM in Indianapolis.