Hall Of Famer Kirby Puckett, a .318 career hitter, 10 time American League All-Star, 6 time Gold Glove winner and leader of the Minnesota Twins squads that won the World Series in 1987 and 1991, died earlier today. Puckett expired from complications relating to the massive stroke he suffered on Sunday at his home in Scottsdale, AZ.
While I have no great love for the Twins, Puckett was one of the marquee players of his era. Though his walk-off HR off Atlanta’s Charlie Leibrandt in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series was probably his most memorable moment, Puckett’s everyday joy for the game was nothing if not infectious. Though he resembled a bowling ball for the latter stages of his career, Puckett remained an exceptional fielder and a dangerous hitter. It is impossible to imagine the Twins having prospered nearly so much without his contributions, just as it is possible to imagine Don Mattingly in the Hall Of Fame had he played for Minnesota instead of New York.
Since Puckett’s retirement 1996 due to glaucoma in his right eye, his public image has taken a serious hit. A 2003 Frank Deford article in Sports Illustrated portrayed Puckett as a philanderer, physically abusive towards women and given to acts of dementia.
Without sounding cavalier about Puckett’s alleged offenses, we might not know everything about his mental or physical fitness the last few years (though there are not-so-subtle hints that both left something to be desired).
With yesterday’s sad news, Puckett becomes the 2nd youngest person (behind Lou Gehrig) to pass away after already having been inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame.