Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett
KirbyPucketHomeRun1991WorldSeriesGame6.JPG
Date of birth March 14 1960
Place of birth Flag of United States Chicago, Illinois
Date of death March 6 2006 (age 45)
Place of death Phoenix, Arizona
Height 5'8"
Weight 210
Position(s) Center field
College Triton College
Draft 1982 / Round 1
All Stars 1986–1995
Awards 1991 1991 ALCS MVP,
1993 All-Star MVP
1993 Branch Rickey Award
Gold Glove 1986–1989, 1991–1992
Silver Slugger 1986–1989, 1992, 1994
Honors All-Star (10): 1986-1995;
All-Star Game MVP 1993;
Gold Glove (6): 1986-1989, 1991-1992;
Retired #s Minnesota #34 (1997)
Career
Highlights
1987 World Series champion
1991 World Series champion
Statistics BaseballAlmanac
Team(s) as a Player
1984–1995 Minnesota Twins
Baseball Hall of Fame, 2001

Kirby Puckett (March 14, 1960 – March 6, 2006) was a center fielder in Major League Baseball who played his entire major-league career with the Minnesota Twins from 1984 to 1995. Puckett led the Twins to World Series titles, in 1987 and 1991, the only two championships for the franchise since their move to Minnesota in 1961.

His gregarious personality and dynamic style of play endeared him to fellow players and fans alike. He is the Twins franchise's all-time leader (1961-present) in career hits, runs scored, extra base hits, and total bases. Kirby's .318 career batting average was the highest by any right-handed American League batter in the second half of the twentieth century.

Contents

He was the first baseball player during the twentieth century to record 1,000 hits in his first five full calendar years in Major League Baseball (since joined by Seattle Mariner Ichiro Suzuki), and one of only two to record 2,000 hits during his first ten full calendar years. After being forced to retire at age 35 due to loss of vision in one eye from glaucoma, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001, his first year of eligibility. Puckett was known for the unbridled enthusiasm with which he played the game, and for his determination in getting the most from his physical abilities.

Early life

Puckett was born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised in one of the city's worst ghettos. Unheralded in high school, he worked as a census taker and in the Ford Motor Company plant before briefly attending Bradley University, where he was named to the first-team, All-Missouri Valley Conference during his freshman year. He transferred to Triton College and was subsequently drafted by the Twins in the first round of the 1982 baseball draft.

Kirby Puckett's career: 1982-1995

In 1982, Puckett began his minor league baseball career with the Elizabethton Twins in Tennessee. At the time, Puckett was a "slap hitter," or a hitter that hits for a high average but without power. He hit an amazing .382 batting average and was an outstanding defensive center fielder in only his first season. After his time in the minor leagues, including a stint with the Visalia Oaks, he was promoted to the major leagues, earning a spot on the Minnesota Twins roster on May 8, 1984. Kirby was called up to replace center fielder Jim Eisenreich, who had a condition that eventually was revealed to be Tourette syndrome. On May 8, he became only the ninth player in history to record four hits in the first full game of a career, by going 4 for 5 against the California Angels.

He was among the league's best rookies in 1984, batting .296 and leading all American League center fielders in outfield assists with 16. He had a similar season in 1985, when he played in every game and batted .288. Beginning in 1985, Puckett established his trademark cross before every at-bat. Coincidentally, in 1985, the song "Centerfield" by John Fogerty was released as a single. The single created an immediate association in Minnesota with the electric performance and humble personality of the team's rising center fielder.

In just his third season, Puckett burst into stardom. During the offseason, Kirby spent countless hours working with hitting coach Tony Oliva on driving the ball for distance. Despite his small stature, 5 foot 8 inch (1.73 m), Puckett had immense strength and the quick wrists of a power hitter. In 1986, he added power to his game, blasting 31 home runs. En route, he also raised his batting average to .328 and winning the first of his six Gold Glove Awards for outstanding defensive play.

Puckett had his best season, statistically speaking, in 1988, hitting .356 with 24 home runs and 121 RBI, to finish third in the MLB Most Valuable Player Award balloting for the second straight season. The Twins won 91 games, six more than in their championship season the year before, but finished second to the powerful Oakland Athletics in the American League West.

Puckett won the AL batting title in 1989 with a mark of .339, making him the first right-handed batter to win the title in eight years. In April 1989, he earned his 1,000th hit, the first player in the twenteith century to do so within his first five seasons. He continued to play well in 1990, but the Twins slipped all the way down to last place in the AL West.

In 1991, the Twins got back on the winning track and Puckett led the way by batting .319, eighth in the league. Minnesota surged past Oakland in midseason and captured the division title, then upset the favored Toronto Blue Jays in five games in the 1991 American League Championship Series. Puckett batted .429 with two home runs and six RBI in the playoffs to win MVP honors.

The Twins contended for one more season and then began to slip, but Puckett refused to follow suit. In 1994, Puckett, now playing in right field, won his first league RBI title by driving in 112 runs in just 108 games. He was having another brilliant season in 1995 before having his jaw broken by a Dennis Martínez fastball on September 28. Many have speculated that this injury caused him to develop glaucoma the following year, but there is no conclusive evidence for this.

1987: The Year of Kirby

During that championship year, Puckett put on his best performance on August 30 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, against the Milwaukee Brewers, when he went 6-for-6 with two home runs, one off of Juan Nieves in the third inning and the other off of closer Dan Plesac in the ninth. He also denied Robin Yount a grand slam with a fantastic catch in center field.

In 1987, Puckett batted .332 with 28 home runs and 99 runs-batted-in during the regular season, to lead the Twins to the 1987 World Series, their second since relocating to Minnesota (Their other was the 1965 World Series loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.) His performance was even more impressive in the seven-game Series upset win over the St. Louis Cardinals, batting a whopping .357.

1991 World Series

The 1991 World Series is considered by many to be the most exciting ever. Both the Twins and their opponent, the Atlanta Braves, had finished last in their respective divisions the year before winning their league pennant, a feat that had never been accomplished in the history of major league baseball. Entering Game 6, the Twins trailed three games to two and had to win or face elimination. Puckett gave the Twins an early lead by scoring Chuck Knoblauch with a triple, and single-handedly held off an Atlanta rally in the third inning with a leaping catch off the plexiglas outfield wall that stole a sure double by Ron Gant (in later seasons, the plexiglas would be removed). The game went into extra innings and in the first at-bat of the bottom of the 11th, Puckett hit a dramatic walk-off home run, on a 2-1 count, off Charlie Leibrandt to keep his team alive, rocketing a hanging change-up into the left-center seats. In the years to come, and especially after Puckett's death, Game 6 came to symbolize his entire career as an excellent ballplayer who always came through for the Twins when they needed it the most. The next night, Puckett's Twins won 1-0 in ten innings for their second World Series title in Minnesota.

Retirement

On March 28, 1996, after tattooing the Grapefruit League (spring training) for a .360 average, Puckett woke up without vision in his right eye. He was diagnosed with glaucoma, and several surgeries over the next few months could not restore vision in the eye; Puckett never played professional baseball again. On July 12, at age 35, Puckett announced his retirement from baseball. His lifetime batting average of .318 was the highest of any right-handed batter since Joe DiMaggio retired in 1951. Puckett moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, in the winter of 2003.

Awards and accolades

Puckett appeared in 10 straight All-Star Games and was named the MVP of the 1993 All-Star Game in Baltimore's Camden Yards. The Twins retired his number in 1997. In 2001, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, becoming only the sixth player ever to be inducted before reaching the age of 41. In 1999, he ranked Number 86 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. He also was a six time Golden Glove winner. Puckett was the first player born in the 1960s to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In June 2006, he was joined by Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn.

Puckett had been admired throughout his career. His unquestionable baseball prowess, outgoing personality, charity work, community involvement, healthy image, good rapport with the media, and nice-guy attitude earned him the respect and admiration of fans across the country. In 1993, he received the Branch Rickey Award for his community service work [1].

Controversy

Puckett became the subject of controversy in the years before his death. He was arrested and charged with groping a woman in a bar restroom in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, on September 5, 2002. He was tried and acquitted.

In the March 17, 2003, edition of Sports Illustrated, columnist Frank Deford wrote an article entitled, "The Rise and Fall of Kirby Puckett," that documented Puckett's alleged indiscretions and attempted to contrast his private life with the much-revered public image he maintained prior to his arrest. A companion of many years to Puckett commented once that when Puckett could not play baseball anymore, "he started to become full of himself and very abusive." His weight ballooned to over 300 lbs and he was alleged to have performed lewd acts in public, such as urinating in the parking lot of a shopping center, in plain view of other people.

Death

On the morning of March 5, 2006, Kirby Puckett suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. He underwent emergency surgery that day to relieve pressure on his brain; the surgery failed, and his former teammates and coaches were notified the following morning. Many, including World Series teammates Shane Mack and Kent Hrbek, flew to Phoenix to be at his bedside during his final hours, alongside Puckett's ex-wife, Tonya Puckett and their two children, Kirby Jr. and Catherine. His autopsy report, released after the end of the 2006 season, revealed the cause of his stroke was hypertension due to his post-career weight gain.

He died on March 6 in Phoenix, Arizona, of complications from the stroke at approximately 5:30 p.m. Mountain Standard Time (0030 UTC, 7 March), shortly after being disconnected from life support,[2] just 8 days away from his 46th birthday. The official cause of death was recorded as, "cerebral hemorrhage due to hypertension." Puckett died at the second-youngest age (behind Lou Gehrig) of any Hall of Famer inducted while living, and the youngest to die after being inducted in the modern era of the five-season waiting period. Puckett is survived by his children, son Kirby Jr. and daughter Catherine. At the time of his death, he was engaged to marry Jodi Olson, with an expected wedding date of June 24.

Puckett's doctors specifically ruled out the possibility of his glaucoma in 1996 having been caused by the fracture of his jaw the previous year.

A private memorial service was held in the Twin Cities suburb of Wayzata, Minnesota, on the afternoon of March 12 (declared "Kirby Puckett Day" in Minneapolis), followed by a public ceremony held at the Metrodome, attended by family, friends, ballplayers past and present, and approximately 15,000 fans (an anticipated capacity crowd dwindled through the day due to an incoming blizzard that night). Speakers at the latter service included Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew, a former Minnesota Twin, along with Cal Ripken, Dave Winfield, and a multitude of former teammates and coaches.

Legacy

Kirby Puckett's name is immortalized into the hearts of baseball fans who come into the Metrodome. The seat occupied by the fan who caught Puckett's game-winning, series-preserving home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series was replaced by one made of gold-colored plastic with the seat number "34," Puckett's uniform number. This dramatic game has been widely remembered as the high point in Puckett's career. The images of Puckett rounding the bases, arms raised in triumph, are always included in video highlights of Puckett's career, often accompanied by CBS Sports commentator Jack Buck's words, "And we'll see you tomorrow night!" During Kirby's retirement press conference, he made a statement that summed up who he was as a person: "I was told I would never make it because I'm too short. Well, I'm still too short, but I've got 10 All-Star Games, two World Series championships, and I'm a very happy and contented guy. It doesn't matter what your height is, it's what's in your heart." His charisma oozed through his every action and made him the fan favorite that he was—even when he knew that his career had been cut short and he would never put on a Minnesota Twins uniform again. He said, "Kirby Puckett's going to be all right. Don't worry about me. I'll show up, and I'll have a smile on my face. The only thing I won't have is this uniform on. But you guys can have the memories of what I did when I did have it on." Kirby authored three books, Be the Best You can Be, I Love This Game: My Life and Baseball, and a book of baseball games and drills, Kirby Puckett's Baseball Games. During the 2006 season, the Twins wore a black 34 on their sleeve in honor of Kirby Puckett. In 2000, Puckett was elected the greatest Minnesotan sportsman of the twentieth Century by the sportswriters of the Star Tribune.

Notes

  1. Baseball Almanac, Branch Rickey Award. Retrieved June 26, 2006.
  2. CNN, Baseball great Kirby Puckett dies. Retrieved June 26, 2006.

References

External links

All links retrieved April 19, 2018.

Preceded by:
Don Mattingly
American League Player of the Month
April 1986
Succeeded by:
Wade Boggs
Preceded by:
Wade Boggs
American League Batting Champion
1989
Succeeded by:
George Brett
Preceded by:
Roberto Alomar
American League Player of the Month
May & June 1992
Succeeded by:
Edgar Martinez
Preceded by:
Dave Stewart
American League Championship Series MVP
1991
Succeeded by:
Roberto Alomar
Preceded by:
Ken Griffey, Jr.
Major League Baseball All-Star Game
Most Valuable Player

1993
Succeeded by:
Fred McGriff
Preceded by:
Dave Winfield
Branch Rickey Award
1993
Succeeded by:
Ozzie Smith
Preceded by:
Albert Belle
American League RBI Champion
1994
Succeeded by:
Albert Belle & Mo Vaughn

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