Monday, March 06, 2006

Kirby Puckett was the man

Wherein he is the greatest ballplayer of my lifetime

Turned out his personal life was a bit messy, but when he was on the field or in the clubhouse, none were better.

Mitch remembers the Puck:
There were times, living in Minnesota - the Sad Sack of sports states, the little state that traditionally couldn't - when one had to pinch oneself to realize you were in the same place and time as a player like Kirby; a Hall of Famer with the highest right-handed batting average since DiMaggio and the ability to galvanize a team of journeymen around him into one of the most successful rummage-sale franchises of its era.

UPDATE 1:Since I now live in Atlanta, and showed up four months after the 1991 World Series, let's talk about Charlie Leibrandt. Game 6, Kirby Puckett turned in one of the greatest performances, ever. I wasn't at the game, I was at a bar somewhere. What I can tell you is that as soon as Atlanta called in Leibrandt, everyone knew the game was over. He's still walking in from the bullpen and we're all screaming "YES!" and high-fiving each other. Leibrandt was the pitcher and Kirby Puckett was going to end the game. Half of Minnesota would have bet their house on it. Anyone else I've spoken too - whether they were at the game, another bar, or at home - had the same thought. Because as great as a hitter Puckett was, he feasted off of junkballers like Leibrandt. Didn't matter if you floated one over the plate or a foot outside and above his head; if Puckett could reach it he would smack the crap out of it. That's what happened, end of game. So what I've always wondered is why didn't Atlanta know this? Or was it they were just out of options? Because, honestly, they'd have been better off just bringing in a position player to pitch to Puckett.

UPDATE 2: Patrick Ruesse is a long time sportswriter with the Mpls Star-Tribune. One of the best storytellers I've ever read and if he wrote in New York would probably be world famous. Here's today's article:
Early on that trip through those precious hallways, Kirby had said to the Minnesota reporter tagging along: "I try to tell my son, 'When Daddy's not here anymore, you will be able to bring your family, your friends here, and show them a bit of what your daddy did.' "

Kirby Puckett could not have dreamed -- even in fatalistic dreams about his family with too many young deaths -- that the plaque in Cooperstown would carry such dramatic meaning five years later.

Four years and 10 months, actually, from the day the Pucketts' special trip through the museum ended with a preview of an eight-minute highlight tape for Kirby's induction that had giants of baseball talking of his relentless effort and enthusiasm for the game.

There were tears in the Cooperstown video room that day, seeing those tributes to Kirby, and there are tears today from Warroad to Winona, for the public Kirby we knew from May 8, 1984, to Aug. 12, 2001.

Those are the snapshots of Puck that we remember, and we are heartbroken.

Update #3: Comment at Baseball Think Factory by Alex Vila at 10:37
Being a Braves fan since 1978, well, that made 1991 that much more special. We hadn't ever won anything, not really. The division with Joe Torre in '82, but we didn't get anywhere. But '91 - that was different. Atlanta was absolutely electric. Everyone was following what was going on. I was so happy to see my Braves finally being taken seriously. Even though it took seven games we got past Pittsburgh and made it to the World Series. I look back at the memories and believe that it was the greatest World Series ever played. Seven glorious amazing games. I remember the beginning of the final game, when before the first pitch Lonnie Smith shook Brian Harper's hand, still probably the classiest thing I've ever witnessed on a baseball diamond. I was so proud of them - both teams.

And we lost. But somehow, upset as I was, I could handle it. I could be Ok, because of the smile on Kirby Puckett's face. Even though he absolutely killed us in Game 6 I couldn't stay mad at him, because he was Kirby Puckett. Because his smile was really one of the best things about baseball.

Now he's gone, and I really can't believe it. Rest In Peace, Kirby. You will be missed.

Update #4: Batgirl remembers:
As Bert Blyleven said on a broadcast a couple years ago, "If you don't love Kirby Puckett, you don't love life." That is the thing with Kirby Puckett, you just love him. Genuinely, truly love, like a friend, a family member. And Bert was more right than he knew, because something about Kirby showed you how to love life. Kirby was joy, personified, and his joy infected everyone around him. We are all happier people for having had the privilege of having him play for our team, having had the privilege of knowing him.


Anonymous Amy said...

I am still shocked that he passed away. He was a really good player. He was one of the few I would get excited about watching play.

3/07/2006 07:24:00 AM  

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