That summer Killebrew matched his career high of 49 homers, his league-leading total in 1964, to take the sixth and final home-run title of his Hall of Fame career. His 140 RBIs, 145 walks and .427 OBP were league-leading numbers as well, and all three were single-season highs for the 33-year-old veteran. Rod Carew won his first of six batting titles that season—and stole home seven times under Martin’s tutelage—and with Killebrew taking the home-run and RBI crowns, they shared the Triple Crown.
The 1969 season marked the fifth time Killebrew was among the top five vote-getters in MVP balloting, and this time he finished on top. In a 2010 interview, Killebrew took his typically modest tact about winning MVP honors: “We had César Tovar leading off. Carew was with us then. Tony (Oliva) hit third most of the time. We flip-flopped back and forth against left and righthanded pitching. He had a great year. I drove in 140 runs and people said, ‘Man, that's a lot of RBIs.’ I said it should have been 240 with all those guys on the bases.”
Modesty aside, Killebrew was a clutch hitter in so many key situations; he slugged .686 in 217 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. He was at his best against Oakland, the Twins’ stiffest competition in the AL West race. In 18 games against A’s pitching, Killebrew batted .435, pounded 11 homers, scored 19 runs and drove in 34.
For the season, he delivered 20 game-winning hits in a 97-win season. One of those game winners was not typically Harmon-like.
At Met Stadium on April 19, with Ted Uhlaender on second base and Oliva on first and the score tied, Killebrew secured a 6-5 walk-off victory by beating the “Killebrew shift” with a single through the right side of the infield. Teams sometimes moved their second baseman to the left side of the infield with the pull-hitting slugger at the plate. So, Angels second sacker Bobby Knoop was in no position to field Killebrew’s grounder, which moved the Twins atop the AL West for the first time. “How about that Killebrew,” Twins reliever and clubhouse humorist Bob Miller said after the game. “He’s a regular Nellie Fox.”
Killebrew was more Fox-like by stealing a career-high eight bases under Martin. Killebrew was more impressed, however, that he played in all 162 games after rehabbing from a career-threatening injury the previous winter.
“1969 was my best year,” Killebrew said 40 years later. “I don’t know why because 1968 is when I got hurt in the All-Star Game and I missed half the season (with a ruptured hamstring muscle). Some of the doctors said I was through playing, that I wouldn’t recover. I worked really hard that winter and came back and had the best year I ever had in baseball. Why? I don’t know.”
—From an upcoming book, tentatively titled “The Glory Years of the Minnesota Twins”