NEW YORK (Reuters) - Baseball Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, the brawny slugger who remains near the top of the career home runs list, said Friday he is ending his battle with esophageal cancer and will live out the final days of his life in hospice care.
The 11-times All-Star, whose 573 career home runs are the 11th most in Major League Baseball, said he looks forward to spending his finals days in comfort alongside his wife.
“It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end,” Killebrew, 74, said in a statement released by the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“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 started his career with the Washington Senators in 1954 and relocated with the franchise to Minnesota in 1961 where they became the Twins. He played one year with the Kansas City Royals in 1975 before retiring.
Killebrew was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1969 after a season where he recorded a career-best 140 RBIs, 49 home runs and a .276 batting average while playing in all 162 of Minnesota’s games that year.
The Twins retired his uniform number in 1975 and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984 after a 22-year career in which he recorded 1,584 RBIs and a .256 batting average in 2,435 games.
“He’s such a classy guy,” Jim Kaat, Killebrew’s team mate for 15 years, told Reuters. “The statement he came out with shows you what a dignified attitude he has toward this.
“I think he was the face of the Twins organization. The Twins have a reputation for handling themselves properly on and off the field and playing the game right, and I think that probably started with Harmon.”
In April, Killebrew scrapped plans to throw the ceremonial first pitch at the Twins’ home opener, saying the trip would disrupt his cancer treatment schedule in Arizona.
At the time, he said in a statement that he had made tremendous progress and remained optimistic and hopeful for a full recovery.
Twins spokesman Kevin Smith said plans to pay tribute to Killebrew at Friday’s home game against the Toronto Blue Jays were still being finalized but acknowledged that a video tribute and hanging the former player’s No. 3 jersey in the Minnesota dugout were likely.
“This is not anywhere close to a memorial. He is still with us,” Smith told Reuters. “This is an acknowledgment of his statement. He just wanted everyone to know what his next step was and beyond that we don’t have anything to say.”
Smith also said notes of best wishes from current Twins players will be sent to Killebrew overnight by the team.
Killebrew, who still holds the team record for most home runs, RBIs, walks and games played, had announced in December that he had been diagnosed with cancer and started treatment.
“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,” Killebrew said Friday.
“I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with Nita by my side.”
(Additional reporting by Larry Fine)
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes