Legendary Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew, one of Minnesota's most beloved sports figures, said Friday that he is near death from esophageal cancer and is entering hospice care.
In a statement sent through the Minnesota Twins, the 74-year-old Hall of Famer said, "It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end. ... I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with (wife) Nita by my side."Killebrew's ongoing battle with cancer didn't keep him from his annual appearance as a Twins spring training guest instructor in March but he could not make it to Minneapolis to throw out the ceremonial first pitch last month at the team's home opener. Former teammate Tony Oliva filled in and made the pitch to Killebrew's grandson Casey.
Killebrew said then that he had to remain in his home state of Arizona for continued cancer treatment at Mayo facilities. The diagnosis was made in December.
"I have exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease," Friday's statement said. "My illness has progressed beyond my doctors' expectation of cure." He added that he has spent the "past decade of my life promoting hospice care and educating people on its benefits. I am very comfortable taking this next step and experiencing the compassionate care that hospice provides."
Team President Dave St. Peter, who saw Killebrew in Phoenix on Thursday, said Friday that Twins officials "have been in constant contact" with family members.
"It became clear to (Killebrew and his family) that they have entered a new stage in the battle, and they felt it had progressed beyond what the doctors originally hoped to control. ... I can't say enough about the courage displayed by Harmon."
St. Peter added that Killebrew "remains incredible. He's watching, as best as he can, the baseball team. He's more concerned about the struggles on the field than his situation. He's an amazing man."
The news prompted reaction from all corners of the Twins family, with consensus building about his accomplishments and his character.
"When I came here, in 1961, he was one of the first people I met," said Oliva. "We became special friends, and we've been together for all these years. When I came here, I didn't speak English, but he talked to me. He called me 'Rookie,' and I called him 'Killer."'
Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer, in a tweet accompanied by a recent photo of him and Killebrew, said that the baseball legend is "one of the greatest men I have ever had the pleasure of calling a friend! My thoughts and prayers are with him right now."
Rod Carew, boarding a plane from Hawaii back to the mainland, said he spoke with his former teammate just four or five days ago and it "seemed like he was in good spirits." The fellow Hall of Famer said Killebrew was a "special man" who "really helped me out as a young player."
Clark Griffith, whose father, Calvin, signed the 18-year-old Killebrew as a "bonus baby" in 1954, said, "Oh man, there's a sense of deep sadness. I don't know how to react. This is very shocking and very sad."
Killebrew played 22 seasons in the majors, the bulk of them at third and first base, hitting 573 home runs (11th on the all-time list). He was an 11-time All-Star, at least once in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s
He hit 40 or more homers in eight seasons and won the American League home run title six times.
Killebrew moved from Washington to Minnesota with the Twins for the inaugural 1961 season, becoming a fan favorite for his tape-measure home runs and his genial nature.
He helped lead the Twins to the World Series in 1965 and was the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1969. Playing in all 162 games, he hit 49 home runs, collected 140 runs batted in and batted .276.
He wrapped up his career in 1975 with the Kansas City Royals.
Killebrew was inducted into the Hall in 1984, being named on 335 of 403 ballots by baseball writers who put aside his .256 lifetime batting average.
According to Mayo, the cause of esophageal cancer is unclear, though the clinic recommends weight reduction and quitting smoking as prevention measures.
It is most common among men and people between 45 and 70 years of age. It is listed by the National Cancer Institute as the 10th-most deadly cancer in the United States.