The saga of Harmon Killebrew's red chair

January 14th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- Whether they knew it as Camp Snoopy, The Park at MOA or Nickelodeon Universe, chances are, most kids that grew up in Twins Territory have been to the amusement park in the Mall of America -- and, thus, have seen the red chair that's bolted to the wall off to the right-hand side of the log chute.

The lone stadium chair used to hang on the wall without much fanfare, but these days, it's hard to miss its association with legendary slugger thanks to the large banner that hangs beside it: "Harmon Killebrew, thank you for the memories." It approximately marks the spot where the longest home run in the history of Metropolitan Stadium -- a revised estimate puts it at 522 feet -- came to rest in the left-field upper deck.

Sadly, it's not the original seat in which Killebrew's prodigious blast landed; it's simply another seat from Metropolitan Stadium that has been painted to mark the spot. Why is that? And why did the seat come to be bolted to the wall in the first place?

Angels right-hander Lew Burdette holds the distinction of having thrown the pitch on June 3, 1967, that has since become part of Twins lore. Killebrew was the second batter he faced in relief of starter George Brunet in the fourth inning. The slugger took a big swing, and with a sharp crack, the ball carried all the way over the bleachers into the upper deck, thought to be the first to reach that tier at the Met.

The Twins painted the seat red and put down a plaque -- but at the time, they didn't have enough experience dealing with feats of baseball history and memorabilia to foresee what was to come.

"Everybody was in awe," Twins historian and curator Clyde Doepner said. "And I don't think anybody thought at that moment in time, 'We'd better grab that seat.' Because back then, it was a pretty big deal to just put a sign on the seat and say, 'Here's where it landed.'"

What came next, of course, is that fans wanted a piece of history for themselves.

"Over the years, people pilfer things as soon as they can," Doepner said.

The original plaque marking Killebrew's feat was stolen -- as were several replacements. Doepner was actually contacted years later and offered (ransomed?) the marker back for $5,000, but he declined, and the plaque fortunately made its way to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

The chair, too, became a prime target for wannabe collectors -- to the point where Doepner simply has no idea what became of the original seat where the blast landed.

"I know over the years, they said from people that worked up there, that several times somebody would take the seat thinking they had the original one," Doepner said.

That's why there's a replica chair on the wall instead, as a way for the Ghermezian brothers -- developers of the Mall of America -- to still pay tribute to the most notable feat at the stadium that used to stand on the site of the retail center. They actually wanted the original home plate, too, but Doepner has a policy of not selling off pieces of his collection, which is why there's simply a plaque marking the spot of where home plate sat, now next to the SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge.

Killebrew actually hit another prodigious blast the following day, which some contest might actually have traveled farther than the first -- but it didn't find a memorable resting place because it was hit more towards center field and caromed off the facade of the wall. The bat responsible for both of these blasts, by the way, survived for 27 games and still resides in Doepner's collection, gifted by Killebrew himself.

"When it broke, it was so legendary because of the home runs he hit with it, the two big ones especially, that they stirred their pine tar with that," Doepner said. "And I've got the bat head, and the end of it is just thick with pine tar."

In a fun epilogue to this story, Doepner and the Twins have understandably gotten much better at preserving notable seats. For example, the Twins painted a seat in the Metrodome's left-field bleachers gold to mark the landing site of Kirby Puckett's legendary walk-off homer in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, but that wasn't the original seat, which the club removed that night in anticipation of possible thievery to come.

"I got a call about a year ago saying they have the original one," Doepner said. "And I said, 'Well, I'm sorry, we now know who stole one of the replacements.'"

"No, I've got the original one," came the reply. "What do you mean, you've got it? I took it out. I mean, I saw it was physically there."

"No, you don't," Doepner responded. "But if you ever want to donate that one..."

"Click, that was the end of that discussion."