Killebrew has esophageal cancer

MINNEAPOLIS - Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

The 74-year-old Killebrew released a statement through the Minnesota Twins on Thursday, saying he expects to make a full recovery from the “very serious” condition.

“With my wife, Nita, by my side, I have begun preparing for what is perhaps the most difficult battle of my life,” Killebrew said.

Killebrew hit 573 home runs and made 11 All-Star appearances during his 22-year career, mostly with the Washington Senators and Twins. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984.

Killebrew ranks 11th on the all-time homer list, and his eight seasons with 40 or more homers is tied for second in American League history behind Babe Ruth.

A native of Payette, Idaho, Killebrew has maintained a regular presence with the Twins, wearing his No. 3 jersey, for years. He lives in the Phoenix area and said he is receiving treatment at a branch of the Mayo Clinic nearby.

The congenial power hitter is one of the most beloved players in Twins history, as much for his gentle and approachable nature off the field as for the towering home runs he smacked at Metropolitan Stadium during his playing days.

“I tell everybody he’s too nice to be a baseball player,” former teammate Tony Oliva said. “He’s a gentleman.”

Oliva saw Killebrew in September for the team’s celebration of 50 years in the Twin Cities.