Harmon Killebrew can appreciate the problems of a teen-ager on a major league team. He first arrived in Washington at 17 during the time when the bonus rule stipulated that any player receiving more than $4,000 had to remain with the parent club for two seasons. In those two years Killebrew appeared in 47 games for the Senators and saw at least as many movies with Ray Crump, the Twins' clubhouse man, who was then the bat boy and Killebrew's only contemporary on the team.
Since then Killebrew has grown into a proud, private man whose approach to hitting, he says, is a good reflection of his life-style. Killebrew puts on his hard hat one turn before he is due in the on-deck circle and stands motionless next to the bat rack, staring at the pitcher. When his time comes, he moves to the on-deck area, takes three or four bruising swings and then kneels motionless, again staring at the pitcher. In the batters' box he makes one cursory swish with his bat between pitches. Then he simply stands, again stock still, with the bat resting on his shoulder. He waits to cock his bat until the pitcher, whose hands Killebrew has been concentrating on, begins his windup. The whole process is done with a let's-get-down-to-it air. "That's pretty much the way I am," says Killebrew. "I'm not a fidgety person. I try to stay as calm and relaxed as I can. It helps me concentrate, which I think is the most important thing about hitting."
Killebrew is effectively soft-spoken in a manner that only men of extraordinary physical power seem able to perfect. He does not participate in the loud banter of the clubhouse and he passed up the celebration when the Twins clinched the division title last year. He is not withdrawn, however. When a stocky minor-leaguer arrived in Minneapolis last week to have his sore legs checked by the team doctor, Killebrew was one of the first to stop and talk to the boy, offering him tips on how to keep those kind of legs—the sort that have given Killebrew a tricky knee and a painful hamstring rupture—in shape.
Killebrew's loud noises are made with his bat. He spent most of three seasons in the minors after his teen-age tours as a bonus baby, returning to the Senators permanently at 22. Overall he has averaged a home run every 12.9 at bats, well behind Ruth's 11.8 but far ahead of everyone else.
Killebrew's willingness to take walks and not swing at bad balls has improved his average. So has the presence in the lineup of two other high-average hitters, Tony Oliva and Cesar Tovar. "Naturally I hope I've gotten smarter as I've gotten more experience," says Killebrew. "But I can't get all that excited about the .300 thing. The important thing for me is to drive in runs and score them. I think I should take the hardest swings I can every time I'm at the plate."
Over a three-game stretch last week, Killebrew's hardest swings produced only one hit in 12 at bats, but it underscored his importance to the Twins. The hit was a two-run single in Perry's 2-1 victory over Detroit. He drove in a run on a fielder's choice the next night that gave him back the league RBI lead.
A home run, his 30th of the year, into the bleachers in deepest center field broke his slump on Friday as the Twins routed the Orioles 8-0. As Killebrew, who is rock-hard underneath the blousy uniform that gives him the look of a rotund, middle-aged man on the field, chugged around second base in his awkward gait the scene was a reminder that not all great hitters have the lithe bodies of a Mays or an Aaron. The most powerful one ever was built along the lines of Harmon Killebrew.