A hometown hero who became one of baseball’s greatest homerun hitters and left a lasting charitable legacy will have the Post Office in Payette named for him under a bill authored by Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho.
Harmon Killebrew, who died in 2011, hit legendary tape-measure home runs during a 22-year career with the Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals.
Killebrew was discovered in 1954 after Sen. Herman Welker, R-Idaho, tipped off Clark Griffith, owner of the Senators, about a 17-year-old slugger in Payette. Griffith sent a scout, who almost didn’t get to see Killebrew play. After a night of rain, groundkeepers burned gasoline to make the field playable. Killebrew then did his part by hitting a ball 435 feet into a beet field.
Immediately signed as a $12,000 “bonus baby,” Killebrew made his debut a few weeks later. When he retired in 1975, he’d hit 573 home runs, more than all but four major leaguers – Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Frank Robinson. His mammoth home runs included becoming the first of only four batters to hit a ball over the left-field roof at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium and a 530-foot shot at the Twins’ Metropolitan Stadium.
Killebrew won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1969, when he hit 49 home runs and had 140 runs batted in. He played in 13 All-Star Games and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984. Sports Illustrated later named Killebrew Idaho’s greatest athlete.
“Harmon Killebrew built his strength lifting 10-gallon milk cans on Idaho dairies and leveraged his work ethic into legendary status,” Labrador said. “But Killebrew was far more than a great athlete. He was a truly good and kind man who used his fame to make the world a better place. His generosity lives on in his hometown and naming the Payette Post Office for him is a well-deserved honor.”
In 1976, Killebrew helped found the Danny Thompson Memorial golf tournament in Sun Valley. Now called the Killebrew-Thompson Memorial, the event benefits cancer research. The Harmon Killebrew Foundation, founded in 1998 with his wife, Nita, has built more than a dozen Miracle League Fields designed for kids with disabilities, including one named for him in Payette. The baseball and football fields at Payette High School are named for Killebrew and the city holds an annual celebration in his name.
Killebrew died of esophageal cancer at age 74 after entering into hospice care, a treatment he had advocated for years. At his memorial service, Nita Killebrew read a tribute from a fan: “Harmon is an extraordinary, beautiful, loving, compassionate human being – who also happens to be a legendary baseball player.”
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., are original cosponsors of Labrador’s bill, H.R. 3230.