He was one of the most fearsome home run hitters in baseball, but Harmon Killebrew was universally loved by fans and foes alike. There are countless stories of acts of kindness by “The Killer,” who always took time to sign autographs and speak with fans, particularly youngsters. It’s hard to believe that Killebrew died five years ago, on May 17, 2011.
Killebrew led or tied for the American League lead in home runs six times during his career and connected for more than 40 eight times. He finished with 573 career homers, the most by a right-handed A.L. hitter until Alex Rodriguez passed him in 2009. Killebrew drove in 100 or more runs nine times and led the A.L. three times.
There were some great home run hitters during the 1960s—Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle — but Killebrew led them all, with 393 homers during the decade (Aaron was second with 375).Here is a look at five “killer” cards.
1955 Topps Killebrew rookie card (#124)
This is Killebrew’s most famous card. Many forget that the Twins were the original Washington Senators, and Killebrew sure looks young in that 1955 set. Killebrew’s rookie is one of the three key first-year cards in the set, behind debut cards of Roberto Clemente and Sandy Koufax. The Koufax rookie is card No. 123; having those two cards back to back in your binder would really be nice.
There is only one gem mint graded card of Killebrew’s rookie, out of 3,746 submitted to PSA. In May 2012, that PSA-10 card sold in an auction for $59,135 (including buyer’s premium). The card was part of the Dmitri Young collection in the May 2012Premier Internet auction held by SCP Auctions. It took 24 bids before the card was sold.
There are 23 PSA-9 versions of the card. The highest-graded SGC cards are rated 96, and there are four that were submitted.
Prices vary greatly by condition. Cards without creases start at around $100.
1961 Peters Meats (# 18)
Killebrew’s rookie card might be his most valuable card, but this quirky, regional 26-card set might be his best-looking card. These large, 4 5/8-inch by 3 ½-inch cards were printed on thick cardboard and heavily waxed. The wax was there because the cards were used as partial packaging for the company’s meat products. Or, as the tab noted, “The Twins players pictures can also be found on the backs of all Peters Porkette packages.”
It was the Twins’ first season in Minnesota, so interest was high. The card front featured Killebrew, a Twins logo and a Peters Meats logo. Peters Meats was based in St. Paul, Minnesota.
It was one of Killebrew’s greatest seasons, as he hit 46 homers and drove in 122 runs.
Tough to track down online, they won’t be cheap.
1964 Topps Stand-Up
Another beautiful set, the 1964 Topps Stand-Up set had a colorful design and plenty of big names in the 77-card set. The cards measured 2 ½ inches by 3 ½ inches and featured full-color photographs of players with yellow and green backgrounds. Killebrew’s card was one of 55 to be double-printed, so it was not as scarce as the 22 single prints. The set also features 21 Hall of Famers. Killebrew is shown in his classic, stand-up right-handed batting stance.
For the third straight season, Killebrew led the A.L. in home runs, smacking a career-high 49 — a figure he would match in his MVP season of 1969. He also drove in 111 runs in 1964.
Not rare, but limited and unique enough to be cool. You’ll pay $50 and up for a decent one.
1962 Post Cereal (#85)
Like the 1961 Post set, the 1962 version contained 200 players. Cards were part of the backs of Post cereal boxes, so the backs are blank. Like most cereal cards, they were cut from the back of the box. Condition of the cards vary, then, depending on the neatness of the person doing the cutting. American League players were numbered 1 through 100, while National Leaguers were featured on cards 101-200.
Killebrew’s name is in blue script, and the photo is a tightly cropped shot of him with the bat on his shoulder. A small Post logo with white letters surrounded by a red oval is in the center of the card. The Post cards list the player’s previous season statistics, with his lifetime stats directly beneath. A paragraph lists some of the player’s highlights; in Killebrew’s case, it was the monstrous home run he hit at Briggs Stadium (renamed Tiger Stadium in 1961), becoming the first player to land a homer on the left-field roof at Detroit’s ballpark.
The ’62 Post Killebrew is one of his most affordable 1960s cards–usually no more than $5-15, unless all four black borders are visible and the card has no other flaws.
Killebrew also appears in the scarcer, Canadian Post cereal card set. These cards had the logo at the top left of the card, and the player biography had English and French versions.
1962 Topps Killebrew Sends One Into Orbit (#316)
This card may not be as valuable as the others, but it was one of nine different cards put out by Topps in its flagship set that showed multiple photos of a player in action on the same card. The Killebrew version had a horizontal design and had the headline “Killebrew Sends One Into Orbit.” That’s appropriate, since Killebrew was noted for his long, high-arching home runs. And this card showcases that classic swing and follow through.
The card is also enhanced by the wood grain design of the 1962 set. The 1962 wood design is one of the nicer designs of the 1960s Topps sets, and the action shots were a nice touch. You can find them online in reasonably good condition for under $20.
You can see the current most watched Harmon Killebrew cards on eBay below.