MINNEAPOLIS — Harmon Killebrew, so the story went, was such the slugger that the silhouette of his intimidating pose at the plate was the basis for Major League Baseball’s official logo.
There is no question that Killebrew, who died this week at age 74 following a fight with esophageal cancer, was quite the hitter. The Hall of Famer’s 573 home runs prove just that.
Killebrew, however, rather innocently helped spread a myth that his image was the source of MLB’s red, white and blue icon that dates back more than 40 years.
As fans, friends and family have attested this week, the gentle man they called “The Killer” was as genuine and trustworthy as they came, so Killebrew didn’t make up some fib to exaggerate his fame. He simply misunderstood, until a conversation a few years ago with the logo’s actual creator.
Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney confirmed Wednesday that Jerry Dior was the designer of the three-toned image of a ball approaching a helmeted batter.
In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Dior fondly recalled a warm conversation with the affable Killebrew before which he was nervous about telling him what he knew.
Dior, now retired at age 79 and living in New Jersey, said he made the image in a few hours one day in 1968 for the marketing company he worked for then with a magic marker and a piece of layout paper. He took a couple of magazine photos and drew it.
“It was supposed to be a nondescript kind of design,” Dior said. “That was the criteria of the whole project.”
In a 2008 interview with ESPN.com, Killebrew said he was in the commissioner’s office one day in the late 1960s when a man was marking up with a sketch pencil a photograph of Killebrew at bat and told him of the plan to produce a new MLB logo.
“Then the logo came out, and it did look like me,” Killebrew told ESPN.com. “The only change was the angle of the bat. They changed that to kind of make it fit more into the design.”
Killebrew said in the interview he never got that artist’s name or asked for or received confirmation the logo was in his likeness. Killebrew said Bowie Kuhn, on the MLB committee that selected Dior’s design for the logo before he became commissioner, told him before he died that he couldn’t remember if Killebrew’s pose was indeed the inspiration.
But the legend lived on.
Until Dior and Killebrew spoke as part of that ESPN.com story on the logo mystery.
“I told him he wasn’t the figure in the design. It was nondescript. He asked me if I was sure, and I said yes,” Dior said. “It was a great phone call. It was really, really nice. He seemed like a nice person.”
Added Dior: “He’s a great guy. I was sorry to see him pass away.”
In a society — and an industry like professional sports — where newer is often seen as better, Dior said he’s proud that his work has remained in place for so long.
“It hasn’t changed a bit. The only thing that changed is the color,” Dior said.
He acknowledged that he’s not 100 percent certain the logo wasn’t at least indirectly inspired by a Killebrew photo or some subconscious image imbedded in the designer’s mind.
“I had a bunch of photographs. I can’t swear that it wasn’t Harmon,” Dior said.
Killebrew was, without question, the basis for the logo of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, an organization that began in 1982.
MLBPAA public relations director Nikki Warner confirmed Wednesday that the three-frame silhouette is based on photos of Killebrew, who was a big part of helping the group get started and became a major supporter. He and Bob Feller were team captains last year in the “legends game” put on by the MLBPAA in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Also on Wednesday:
— The Twins announced they’ll hold a public memorial service for Killebrew at Target Field the night of May 26. His funeral at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Peoria, Ariz., will also be open to the public on Friday morning. The family has scheduled a private burial service for Monday in Killebrew’s hometown of Payette, Idaho.
— Killebrew’s family issued a statement thanking fans for their support and prayers, asking that instead of flowers they send donations to the “Legacy Program” at Killebrew’s foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Dave Campbell on Twitter: http://twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP.