Sunday, March 05, 2006

Kirby Puckett Has Stroke

Say what you will about Puckett's sometimes shady post-playing days reputation - and Frank DeFord did a number on Puckett as far as that's concerned, and maybe it was deserved - but few baseball players ever captured the imagination like Puckett, a short, almost fat dude who always got it done and then some for a (at the time) loveable Twins team that could.

I know I'm required to hate the Twins now that the divisions are smaller and they're the bitter rival of the White Sox in the AL Central, but back when Puckett was playing, the old AL West was too big to hate everybody and the Twins were alright. Those 1987 and 1991 Twins teams were underdogs who weren't supposed to be World champions, but somehow they became exactly that, and Puckett was the heart of it all, the engine, the face of overcoming the critics and odds. The dude was awesome, one of the premier hitters of his era. For a guy who had his playing days cut short by glaucoma, you never really had the sense that Puckett hadn't already had a more than fulfilling career. You didn't get the feeling he was cheated. What else could he accomplish? Two World Series rings and ten All-Star game appearances.

Not bad for a bowling ball of a man who grew up in the Robert Taylor projects on Chicago's rough South Side in the shadows of the old Comiskey Park.

I have a very vivid memory of the final day of the 1987 season. I was with a friend and his old man and we were watching the Tigers and Blue Jays play on the telly. They each had 97 wins and the winner was going to the ALCS. The Twins, meanwhile, had already clinched the other playoff spot with a paltry 85 wins. In other words, they were about as laughable as a division champ can get. It was a shame they would even appear in the playoffs at the expense of better teams, we thought. As the Tigers and Jays played to the death, we all had a good laugh at what the winner would do to the poor Twins, who had no chance.

The Twins beat the Tigers four games to one.

They then overcame a three games to one deficit to defeat the Cardinals in the World Series and topped that by beating the Braves in the '91 World Series, which was one of the best in memory, maybe ever.

And through it all, the undersized, pudgy Puckett motoring around the Metrodome was the lasting image. Well, that and Jack Morris' Game Seven masterpiece against the Braves in '91.

Oh, and Dan Gladden's mullet is unfortunately seared into my brain as well.

Here's hoping Puckett is OK. And if he's done beating on women, that would be cool, too.

"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."
-- Kirby Puckett at his 1996 retirement press conference.


Blogger Bill-DC said...

RIP Kirby


5:36 PM  
Blogger UnknownColumn said...

Yeah. Sad. He was one of my favorites.

7:31 PM  

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