Kirby Puckett passed away two years ago today. While sad, his death did not affect me like others did—Paul Wellstone, for example—because you felt like you could almost see it coming.

Howard Sinker has posted some fans’ memories on his Strib blog. wadE and I thought we’d take the opportunity to do the same. Feel free to join us if you would like.


To me, I will remember Kirby for routinely making the impossible seem possible. This became clear to me when I first started following baseball, in the spring of 1988. For one, the simple physics of a man his size (generously listed at 5’10”, 210 pounds) being able to do the things he did seemed impossible. From turning outs into hits by running out ground balls, to the more spectacular leaps over the center field fence to take away home runs, Kirby regularly defied his expected gravity-defined limitations. In addition, his ability to hit a pitch up in his eyes up the middle for a single always impressed me. Although, his ability to turn those into hits taught him to always swing at that pitch—a source of frustration for many Twins fans. Because it was Kirby, though? We let it slide.

As I grew older and learned more about Kirby’s upbringing, I discovered his ability to clear impossible hurdles extended beyond the diamond. He was born and raised in the Robert Taylor Homes housing project on Chicago’s south side. Not unlike its more famous cousin Cabrini-Green, this area was rife with poverty, drugs, and violence. He worked at the local Ford manufacturer right after high school before attending Bradley University; he left after a year when his father passed away prematurely. Despite these setbacks, the Twins drafted Kirby in 1982 and he quickly became the face of the franchise.

What I miss most about Kirby, though, was seeing him have fun with the game. Baseball certainly has its share of anti-heroes now—McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, to name a few—and good-will ambassadors are hard to find. Sure, there are players who *aren’t* dinks. But can you think of anyone who clearly enjoys himself on the field as much as Kirby did? Do we feel like we know any baseball player today well enough to refer to him only by his first name? Five years ago, a lot of stories circulated about a darker side of Kirby, and it’s your choice to believe or disregard those. (Personally, as the main source was an alleged disgruntled mistress, I’ll disregard.) To me, though, he was one of the first people I knew who loved what he did, and the world is severely lacking in those.


As many have said, and I agree, Kirby Puckett was a living legend. He was a baseball player, but to the state of Minnesota and the country he was much more. He was a superstar athlete in a body that was better suited for softball. He was the first $3 million dollar man in baseball; for about 24 hours until Albert Belle got more money. Bob Costas named one of his sons after him. He was a little man who played big. There is little I can say that hasn\’t been said already. I am not even alone when it comes to getting a lump in my throat, or finding the room a bit dusty, when a clip of his home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series plays on TV or radio. After Kirby\’s retirement he quickly disappeared from the public eye. He had a job with the Twins that was mostly made-up. He groped the wrong woman at a local nightclub and when the media shined its harsh light on him, he retreated ever further into the darkness. Everyone has a darker side to them, or a side that most people don\’t know about. When you are in the spotlight it is difficult to keep that hidden. It doesn\’t make someone less of a person, it makes them human; and we don\’t allow that from our heroes.

The marking of two years since Kirby Puckett died has little meaning to me. For all intents and purposes Kirby died the day he was hit in the head with a Dennis Martinez fastball and left baseball. But I choose to celebrate the life instead of the death. I and so many others will remember Kirby for the joy he and his teammates brought to the fans of baseball, the state of Minnesota, and beyond. And that is a legacy worth remembering.



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One response to “kirby”

  1. alex Avatar

    Kooby Pickett!
    It’s sad that he passed before getting his shot at redemption from all the hard times he went through. I was looking forward to the day when he’d be at spring training with Molitor, Oliva, Carew, Killebrew… maybe not so much instructing, but just being around. Helping out. It just wasn’t to be.
    So that’s been two years, and it seems like longer ago. If you want to feel old, it’s been fourteen years since this man passed unexpectedly…

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