Time Capsule Feature: Killebrew Feasted on Fastballs, Then Feasted on Woodland Creatures
A Teammate Remembers: Tom Alexander interviews Don Mincher
No player hit more home runs during the 1960’s than Harmon Killebrew. The Minnesota Twins slugger and Hall of Famer slammed 393 homers in that decade alone. He hit 573 over his career. His teammate Don Mincher who mostly played first base for the Twins said Killer (Killebrew prefers that nickname) feasted on fastballs. However, according to Mincher, he also had an appetite for something a lot more unusual. I spoke with Mincher at his home.
Tom Alexander: I want to thank you for agreeing to join us today. It’s very brave of you after all these years to finally come forward with this story.
Mincher appeared nervous right from the start and kept looking out the window, as if the FBI were going to break down the door.
Don Mincher: It’s ok. Someone had to do it. All of us on that ’65 pennant winning team have thought about telling this story, but we really have a deep, abiding respect for Harmon. He’s really a nice guy. But…
TA: But, he attacked and ate wild animals.
Mincher began to sob. I took the liberty of going into the kitchen and fetching the former All-Star a glass of water.
TA: Are you ok to go on?
DM: I’m fine. Sorry. Where were we?
TA: We were talking about Harmon…the animals.
DM: Right. It started in back when the team was in Washington. I was in my rookie year in 1960. Killer was already beginning to establish himself as a power hitter. He’d hit 42 homers the year before I came up. I was a long ball hitter myself in the minors, so I wanted to pick his brain a bit, you know. And he was great. Very helpful.
TA: Sounds like the big guy was taking you under his wing.
DM: He was. I guess. Then, one night after a home game, he asked me to drive around the city with him. I thought we were going to go out, perhaps talk baseball, maybe pick up some girls or something. Next thing I know, we’re on some back road heading out of the city towards rural Maryland. He pulls over, and told me to wait in the car. He runs into the woods, and I hear some kind of scuffle with loud screams. About five minutes later he comes back to the car with a blood soaked shirt and rabbit fur all over his face. He’s got a big, bloody smile like he was a god damn vampire or something. I was terrified. Harmon told me to relax - he was just a little hungry and thought he’d grab a quick snack. I told him there was a coffee shop two miles back, and how that might have been the more human option.
TA: So were you able to put two and two together at the time?
DM: I had an inkling, yes. I mean, I wasn’t completely sure what happened. It was really dark and isolated. But it didn’t take long for him to confess he enjoyed the gamey, wild taste of woodland creatures. He hunted them down with his bare hands and ate them raw.
DM: You said it brother. The next year (Washington Senators Owner) Mr. (Calvin) Griffith decided to move the team to Minneapolis. Most of the guys on the team were upset about the move. They enjoyed living and playing in Washington. But not Harmon. He was thrilled about the whole thing.
DM: He said he couldn’t wait to get a chance to run through the Minnesota timberland and scrounge himself up some wild badgers and wolves.
TA: Let me see if I can get a handle on this. Did he feel like eating the wild animals made him stronger? Wasn’t he familiar with vitamins, pushups?
DM: It was completely confusing. I guess he felt it did make him stronger, yes. Only a few guys on the team knew about it. I think Bobby Allison knew. But by ‘65 when we won the (American League) pennant, it was common knowledge in the locker room. The guys kept it quiet. The press never knew about it.
TA: Tell me about the badgers.
DM: He fucking loved the taste of badgers. Pound for pound those little bastards are the meanest, strongest, most vicious animals on the planet, except for maybe a wolverine.
But Harm would sniff those things out like a Blood Hound. He’d reach right down the hole and pull them up out of the ground. They’d try ripping into his arm with their razor sharp teeth and dagger claws, but he’d take a chunk out their midsection without batting an eyelash. Nothing was a match for Killer. When he’d get the hunger, he’d get those crazy darting eyes man. And that death row inmate smile would come over him, and it was lights out. One night I saw him eat a fox and an eight point buck. He took a dump in my toilet that night that broke the waterline. The next day he hit three homers off of Jim Lonborg.
TA: Did anybody ever talk to him about this? Or maybe call the Game Commission?
DM: I guess we figured as long as he wasn’t eating minor leaguers for example, it was ok. I mean you gotta understand Tom, this is way before the whole animals rights thing. He was looking for an edge, something to keep sharp. He hit 40 or more homers six times during the 1960’s. No one else was close. I guess he figured if reaching into the chest of a grizzly bear and eating his heart gave him an advantage, who’s gonna mind?
TA: Holy shit. He did that?
DM: Oh yeah. Bears, cougars. He was fearless. He was so strong and wild. You swear he was raised by wolves. Of course he ate those too.
TA: Tony Oliva told me once that there was some sort of incident at a zoo. He refused to elaborate.
Mincher got quiet. He walked over to the door to check if it was locked, and pulled down the shades. He came back over and sat down. He spoke in a hushed tone.
DM: Uh, ok. You’re talking about the National Zoo in Washington. Well, you know after the team moved to Minnesota, Washington got an expansion team. They were the new Senators. It was during the 1966 season, and we were playing at RFK. I think we won 8-2 or something. The Senators weren’t a very good team and we were coming off a World Series appearance. Harmon thought we should celebrate. I thought, it was a good idea. I liked Chinese food, so did Tony, and Jim Kaat. Sounded like a plan. But Harmon had his own idea of Chinese food. He hopped the fence at the National Zoo and went straight for the Panda Bear exhibit. I’m not sure how he got in the cage, but he tore apart Chi-Zu, the Chinese Panda like he was a stuffed doll and started going to town on his innards. He even brought a fucking salt shaker. Kids and parents were running around screaming. The next day he homered into the upper deck at RFK.
Look, Tom, I really can’t go on much more. This is just too painful for me. Harmon is a wonderful man and was a terrific teammate.
TA: I understand.
DM: Maybe we should end it right here. I’m a vegetarian now, and I’m gonna lose my lunch in a second.
TA: Do you fear that Killebrew would be upset knowing what you divulged here today?
DM: Let’s put it this way…the dog’s been missing since Tuesday.
TA: Don, thank you.
Mincher breaks down and cries.
DM: No Tom, thank you.
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