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Puckett, Kirby

Kirby Puckett

1960–2006

Professional baseball player

Kirby Puckett was proof that one needn't be tall and lean to achieve baseball superstardom. The five-foot-eight-inch Puckett excelled both as a hitter and fielder for the Minnesota Twins for almost a decade and helped his team win two World Series. "Little guys can be giants in the big leagues, and … Minnesota slugger Kirby Puckett embodies the notion in a big way," wrote Roy Blount, Jr., in Sports Illustrated. Blount went on to call Puckett "a genie self-summoned from a half-pint jar" and a powerhouse "made of springy sacks of cement."

Puckett knew from his teen years that he would never hit six feet in height. He still thought he might have a chance to play professional baseball if he worked wholeheartedly toward that goal. "It was no secret I wasn't going to be tall," he told Sports Illustrated. "So I figured if I can't be tall, I'll be strong. A bodybuilder, like Arnold Schwarzenegger." Indeed, although Puckett was short, he weighed over 200 pounds during his playing years. He would often laugh when the subject of his body came up. "You don't get to pick your body," he said in Esquire. "God just hands 'em out as he sees fit. Would I like to be six-four or six-five, be tall and thin, look like Darryl Strawberry? Sure, that would be cool. Didn't work out that way, though. I got what I got."

On the field, Puckett was a fierce competitor, winning six Gold Glove Awards at his position and smacking home runs in the nick of time to save his team from losing the World Series. Off the field, he was a genial, easygoing man who enjoyed great rapport with his teammates and a veritable love-fest with Minnesota fans. "There is no prejudice in Minneapolis at all," he told Sports Illustrated. "It's one of the best places for interracial things, the kind of place that you want your kids to grow up in."

Puckett's comfortable home in the Minneapolis suburbs was a far cry from the Robert Taylor Homes on Chicago's South Side, where he was born in 1960. Sports Illustrated correspondent Rick Telander called the projects where Puckett grew up "the World Series champions of inner-city, abandon-hope-all-ye-who-enter-here public housing." The youngest of nine children of William and Catherine Puckett, Kirby Puckett spent the first twelve years of his life in the Taylor Homes. He hardly seemed to notice the gangs and the drugs, however. Baseball absolutely consumed him. He spent most of his childhood on makeshift diamonds, with base paths and strike zones scratched out with stones or chalk. After dark he would spend hours in his room with rolled-up socks and aluminum foil bats, imagining game situations and hitting home runs in his head. "I was a kid enjoying myself," he told Sports Illustrated. "I'd come home from school, do my homework, then look for kids to play ball with…. I loved baseball so much I was always thinking of ways I could keep playing."

Puckett's parents encouraged his interest, and he became something of a neighborhood celebrity at a young age. "Even when I was eight years old, I felt like something special," he said in Esquire, "because when I was eight, I was already playing with kids who were older." Puckett gave his parents credit for helping him to survive the harsh ghetto conditions, citing them as his true "heroes in life." He added in Esquire: "I see some of these guys in the big leagues who came from those nice grassy fields in the suburbs and I just want to say, 'You have no idea.' But I wouldn't have wanted to grow up any other way."

Puckett did not begin to play organized baseball until he went to high school. At Calumet High in Chicago—and for a semipro team called the Chicago Pirates—he played third base, a position he chose because third basemen were not expected to hit home runs. He began rigorous weight training in high school when it seemed certain that he would always be short. The training helped increase his speed on the base paths and his endurance, but it was not enough to win the confidence of the major league scouts. He did not receive any contract offers as a high school senior, so after graduation he went to work at a local Ford manufacturing plant.

A year later, Puckett again tried to catch the attention of a scout. He attended a free-agent tryout for the Kansas City Royals. The tryout resulted not in a bid for professional ball, but rather in a college scholarship to play baseball for Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. The Bradley coach, Dewey Kalmer, moved Puckett from third base to center field and worked with him on his offense. By year's end Puckett had earned the first of a string of awards—he was named to the all-Missouri Valley Conference team.

Puckett left Bradley after only one year because his father died. To be nearer to his mother, he enrolled in a Chicago-area junior college, Triton Community College. It was during his one season there that he finally caught the eye of the scouts. He hit .472 with 42 stolen bases, and he could bench-press 300 pounds. The Twins decided to draft this potential source of talent high in the first round of the January 1982 draft. Their farm director had seen Puckett play in an Illinois collegiate league during the strike-shortened 1981 season and had been suitably impressed.

As with almost every major leaguer, Puckett was sent into the minor league system, first to Class A Elizabethton in the Appalachian League in Tennessee. There he hit .382 and led the league in seven statistical categories, including batting, at-bats, runs, hits, total bases and stolen bases. Baseball America named him that league's player of the year. In 1983 he was promoted to a high Class A team in Visalia, California, where he batted .314 and was selected the California League's best major league prospect. He joined the parent club in the spring of 1984.

In his major league debut on May 8, 1984, Puckett had four hits in five trips to the plate. By season's end he led the Twins in multi-hit games and was voted their rookie of the year. Only one cloud marred Puckett's otherwise rosy horizon—he could not seem to hit the long ball. Despite averaging .292 in his first two years with the Twins, he had only four home runs. With mock contempt, Reggie Jackson called Puckett "a Punch and Judy hitter." Before the 1986 season, Puckett underwent an intensive overhaul of his hitting during spring training. Batting coach Tony Oliva taught him how to trust his strength and speed and to stop worrying about getting jammed by the pitcher. "Before I was too anxious," Puckett told Sports Illustrated in May of 1986. "I didn't want [pitchers] to throw the ball by me. So I lunged and hit a lot of weak grounders." The problem corrected, Puckett became an explosive force for the Twins and a yearly member of the American League All-Star team.

In 1986 he hit 31 home runs and drove in 96—as a lead-off hitter. He also won his first Gold Glove Award as a fielder for his deceptively strong throw from center field and his ability to make spectacular leaping catches of balls destined for the seats. He finished sixth in the American League's Most Valuable Player balloting and was second in the league in runs scored (119). As Telander noted, "Maturity and weight training had finally turned Puckett the runt into Puckett the pit bull." Former Twins manager Ray Miller told Sports Illustrated of Puckett: "You look at him, and you think he's a fat little kid. You touch him, and he's like concrete."

At a Glance …

Born on March 14, 1960, in Chicago, IL; died on March 6, 2006, Scottsdale, AZ; son of William (a postal employee) and Catherine Puckett; married Tonya Hudson, 1986 (divorced, 2002); children: Catherine, Kirby Jr. Education: Attended Bradley University (Peoria, IL), and Triton Community College (River Grove, IL).

Career : Minnesota Twins organization, baseball player, 1982–1996; Minnesota Twins organization, special instructor, 1992–2002.

Selected awards : Calvin Griffith Award, Minnesota Twins' most valuable player, 1985; made American League All-Star Team, 1986–92; Rawlings Gold Glove Award for defensive play, 1986; Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, 1987, 1988, and 1989; Gold Glove Award, 1991; rated "best hitter in the American League" by Baseball America; Baseball Hall of Fame, inductee, 2001.

All of Minnesota warmed to the new superstar, especially as the Twins advanced toward the World Series in 1987. Puckett had another exceptional year, batting .332 with 28 home runs and 99 runs batted in. Once again he won the Gold Glove at his position and made the American League All-Star team. He was also a commanding presence during the American League Championship Series and the World Series, tying a World Series record for most times reaching base in a game (5), most runs scored in a single game (4), and most hits in a World Series. Somehow he also found time to host The Kirby Puckett Report, a television show in his adopted hometown.

If the career of Kirby Puckett can be said to have one shining moment, it has to have been in the sixth game of the 1991 World Series. The Twins had come from last place to first in order to qualify for the Series, and in one of the most exciting World Series ever played, they faced the Atlanta Braves. In the sixth game—a must-win situation for the Twins, who trailed in the Series—Puckett smashed an eleventh-inning home run that won the game for the Twins and forced a seventh game, which they also won. Esquire contributor Mike Lupica called Puckett's heroic long ball "the kind of shot that comes out of one October and lands in all those that follow." Puckett told Sport magazine that he considers winning two World Series championships his greatest accomplishment as a player. "There can only be one champion, and we were it," he said. "We went as high as you can go in baseball."

Puckett was given the nickname "Puck" as a result of his short stature. As the years passed the nickname took on a warm connotation, a testament to the fond feelings his teammates and fans had for him. Puckett added to his unconventional appearance when he shaved his head prior to each baseball season. "Minnesota's Puck has turned himself into everything an every-day player can be," wrote Blount. "What he has done is take traditional little-guy attributes, nimbleness and drive, and conjure with them." The reporter added: "Drive can get on people's nerves. But Puckett has channeled his tenacity into an almost uncanny geniality."

In 1989 Puckett briefly made history by becoming—at the time—professional baseball's highest-paid player. His three-year, $9 million contract was a record at the time but has since been passed by the likes of Bobby Bonilla, Barry Larkin, and Danny Tartabull. Puckett told Esquire that he spends little time thinking about what he is paid. "You might think I'm lying," he said, "but I don't worry about the money, I really don't. Business is business…. I worry about being consistent. The Twins will make a decision when the time comes, I'll make a decision, there won't be any hard feelings. If I have to go, I have to go."

Puckett and the Twins made a decision about Puckett's future in Minnesota following the 1992 season, during which Puckett led the American League in hits (over 200), ranked second in batting average (.329), and batted in over 110 runs. On December 4, 1992, Puckett announced that he had decided to stay in Minnesota and that he had signed a five-year, $30 million deal with the Twins. "I had more lucrative offers," Puckett said at the signing of the second biggest contract in baseball history, confirming rumors that he had been offered as much as $35 million by other teams. "But I thought about my family. I didn't only think about baseball. Who's to say that you will be much happier elsewhere? The grass isn't always greener on the other side. I'm happy to be a Minnesota Twin for the rest of my career."

And he was. The affable Puckett told Esquire that he couldn't be happier with his life. "I'm living out my dream every day," he said. "I think of myself as an average person. I've never thought I was God's greatest gift to the game of baseball. But I came in smiling and I'm gonna leave smiling." When glaucoma cut his career short by blinding him in one eye, Puckett retired on July 12, 1996. He left smiling. "Kirby Puckett's going to be all right," he announced upon his retirement, according to the Star Tribune. "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." Despite his shortened career, Puckett had created a legacy that would make him perhaps the most famous baseball player in Minnesota history. His teammates and fans loved him. In 2001 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In retirement Puckett continued to work as a special instructor and guest coach for the Minnesota Twins until 2002. At that point, Puckett experienced personal trouble. He went through an unpleasant and very public divorce in 2002, and had legal trouble. But he eventually rebounded, moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, and became engaged to be married to Jodi Olson in 2005. Tragically, just a few months before his planned marriage, he suffered a stroke at his home and died in the hospital on March 6, 2006, surrounded by family and friends. Puckett was 45 years old.

An outpouring of love from ex-teammates and fans marked his passing. "He was revered throughout the country and will be remembered wherever the game is played," baseball commissioner Bud Selig told the Associated Press. Obituaries throughout the country remembered his good cheer and pointed to closing remarks he had made during his retirement speech a decade before. Puckett had reminded his teammates: "Just don't take it for granted, because you never know. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. Anything can happen to any of us."

Selected writings

Books

I Love This Game! (autobiography), 1993.

Sources

Periodicals

Associated Press, March 7, 2006.

Buffalo News, March 7, 2006, p. D3.

Detroit News, December 5, 1992.

Esquire, April 1992.

Oakland Press (Oakland County, Michigan), December 5, 1992.

Sport, September 1990.

Sports Illustrated, July 23, 1984; May 12, 1986; June 15, 1987; April 6, 1992.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), March 7, 2006, p. A1.

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"Puckett, Kirby." Contemporary Black Biography. 2007. Encyclopedia.com. 23 Jul. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Puckett, Kirby

Kirby Puckett

1960-

American baseball player

Baseball player Kirby Puckett played twelve seasons with the Minnesota Twins, from 1984 to 1996, helping his team win the World Series in 1987 and 1991. A superstar beloved of Minnesota fans, he was given the nickname "Puck" for his short stature and jovial nature. He was forced to retire as a player at age thirty-six after losing the sight in his right eye to glaucoma. Puckett finished his career with a .318 batting average, the best by a right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio . He set a record with 2,040 hits in his first ten seasons. Puckett was

named to the American League All-Star team for ten consecutive years, from 1986 to 1995. Among many other awards, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001, at age forty-one.

Humble Beginnings

Kirby Puckett was born March 14, 1960 (some sources say 1961), in Chicago, Illinois, the son of postal worker William Puckett and his wife, Catherine. He was the youngest of nine children. The family was poor, making their home in the Robert Taylor housing project on Chicago's South Side. As a boy, Puckett loved baseball and played his early games using aluminum-foil bats and balls made from rolled-up socks. He played ball whenever and wherever he could, scratching out makeshift baseball diamonds and scrounging a team from among neighborhood playmates. Puckett considers his parents heroes because they supported him in his interest and made life in the projects bearable.

Short and stocky, Puckett began body building at Calumet High School in Chicago. He played baseball there and for the semipro Chicago Pirates, at third base. By the time he graduated, however, no major league scouts had made him an offer. He went to work in a Ford Motor Company plant and later worked as a census taker. One year after graduation, he was offered a scholarship to Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, after trying out for the Kansas City Royals.

Discovered by the Twins

After his first year at Bradley, however, Puckett's father died, and he moved back to Chicago to be closer to his mother. He attended Triton Community College, where he continued to play baseball. By this time, he could bench press 300 pounds and was hitting .472, with forty-two stolen bases. A Minnesota Twins scout picked him out, and the Twins drafted him in the first round in January 1982. He started his career on the Twins' minor league team in Elizabethton, Tennessee, in the Appalachian League, where he led the league in seven categories. The following season he was sent to Visalia, California, and chosen best major league prospect. By the spring of 1984, Puckett was moved up to the majors. He made his debut with the Minnesota Twins on May 8, 1984, when he had four hits in five times at bat. As good as his batting was, however, Puckett could not seem to hit home runs, prompting Reggie Jackson to refer to him as "a Punch and Judy hitter."

Chronology

1961 Born March 14 in Chicago, Illinois
1982 Drafted in first round by Minnesota Twins; is sent to minor league in Elizabethton, Tennessee, in the Appalachian League
1983 Promoted to Class A team Visalia Oaks in Visalia, California
1984 Joins Minnesota Twins major league team; makes debut on May 8, with four hits in five times at bat
1986 Undergoes intensive training with batting coach to improve his ability to hit home runs; finishes season sixth in American League's Most Valuable Player voting and second in runs scored; marries Tonya Hudsonthey will have a daughter, Catherine, and a son, Kirby Jr.
1987 Begins hosting television show The Kirby Puckett Report
1989 Becomes the highest-paid player in baseball for a brief time
1991 In sixth game of the World Series, as Twins face the Atlanta Braves, Puckett hits an eleventh-inning home run that wins the game for Minnesota and forces a seventh game, which they also win
1992 On December 4, signs a five-year, $30 million contract with Minnesota Twins
1995 Is hit in the face on September 28 by a fastball, which shatters his jaw and ends his playing season
1996 On March 28, wakes up unable to see out of his right eye; is diagnosed with glaucoma and undergoes four surgeries in four months without improvement of his vision
1996 On July 12, announces his retirement from baseball
1997 Twins retire Puckett's jersey number 34; Puckett continues to serve with Twins as executive vice president
2001 Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame
2002 Wife, Tonya, files for divorce in February and seeks sole custody of their children
2002 In September, is charged with assaulting a woman in a restaurant restroom; claims innocence

During spring training in 1986, new Twins manager Tom Kelly and batting coach Tony Oliva helped Puckett overcome his fear of being hit by the ball and trust his strength and speed at the plate. By the start of the season he had found his powerful, accurate swing and hit thirty-one home runs, with ninety-six runs batted in (RBI), in the 1986 season as a lead-off hitter. The same season, he won his first Gold Glove award as a centerfielder.

In 1987, Puckett batted .332, with twenty-eight home runs and ninety-nine RBIs. The Twins won the World Series, and Puckett was third in Most Valuable Player (MVP) voting. He finished third again in 1988, his best season, after batting .356, with twenty-four home runs and a total of 234 hits. In 1991, Puckett was named MVP of the Twins' Championship victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. In game six of the World Series, Puckett proved himself a superstar when he had three RBIs in the first inning, made astounding plays in the third, fifth, and eighth innings, and hit a game-winning home run in the eleventh inning. This forced a seventh World Series game, which the Twins also won, taking the World Series championship for the second time in five years.

Puckett passed up a chance to earn more money elsewhere in 1992 and decided to stay with the Minnesota Twins for the rest of his career. His loyalty and his humilitycoupled with his outstanding playing ability, short stature, and friendly demeanormade him a favorite of Minnesota fans. He began shaving his head before the baseball season, which made him look even more like a storybook character, and he always drove to ball games in an old pickup truck. In 1995 he turned down his chance to become a free agent and settled in for a long career in Minneapolis. He had married Tonya Hudson in 1986, and they had a young daughter. He told Esquire, "I'm living out my dream every day." Then, in September of 1995, everything began to change.

Injury and Glaucoma

On September 28, 1995, Puckett was hit in the face by a fastball. The blow shattered his jaw and put him out of play for the rest of the season. At spring training camp the following March he was batting well, but on March 28 he woke up unable to see out of his right eye. Doctors discovered he had glaucoma. The problem could not be corrected, even after four surgeries, and on July 12, 1996, he announced his retirement as a player. Puckett told his fans that he was happy with the twelve seasons he had been able to play, including two World Series championships and ten All-Star games. The Twins kept him on as executive vice president of the club, and he and his family were able to stay in Minneapolis, the adopted city they loved.

During his playing years and after retirement, Puckett established and worked for a number of charities, including serving as a national spokesperson for the Glaucoma Foundation and making public appearances to encourage people to get eye exams for the disease. He and his wife hosted an annual invitational pool tournament to raise money for the Children's HeartLink in Minneapolis, to help those in need pay for life-saving heart surgery. Both of Puckett's parents died of heart attacks. As an executive with the Minnesota Twins, he chaired the club's Community Fund committee. He won both the Wesley Branch Rickey Award and the Roberto Clemente Award for service to the community.

Awards and Accomplishments

The Branch Rickey Award is given by the Rotary Club of Denver to Major League Baseball's top community volunteer.
The Roberto Clemente Award is given to the Major League player who best represents baseball through community service.
1982 Named Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America
1984 Topps Major League All-Rookie Team; voted Rookie of the Year by Minnesota Twins
1985 Calvin Griffith Award as Minnesota Twins' Most Valuable Player
1986 American League Silver Slugger Team; Most Valuable Player, Twin Cities Chapter, Baseball Writers Association of America
1986-95 American League All-Star Team
1986-89, 1991 Gold Glove Award
1987 Minnesota Twins won World Series
1987-89 Silver Slugger Award
1991 Minnesota Twins won World Series
1993 Branch Rickey Award
1995 Chosen one of five most caring athletes by USA Weekend
1996 Roberto Clemente Award
2001 Inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame, the third youngest living player to be so honored

Where Is He Now?

Retired from the Minnesota Twins as a player since 1995, Kirby Puckett has remained with the club as executive vice president. He has kept a fairly low profile, according to his former teammates. They say he seems to prefer spending time with his family and fishing to being in the public eye, although he remains tremendously popular with his fans. He also devotes a good deal of time to charity work. However, after a great year in 2001, in which he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, 2002 was a difficult one for Puckett. His wife, Tonya, filed for divorce in February, citing domestic violence and an "irretrievable breakdown" in their marriage. She sought sole custody of their two children. Then, in September, Puckett was charged with felony false imprisonment and misdemeanor criminal sexual conduct. Puckett declared that he was innocent of the charges. He remained free on his own recognizance, and a pretrial was set for late November.

Hall of Fame

Puckett was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, in 2001. He was the third youngest player still living at the time of induction to receive the sport's highest honor, behind only Lou Gehrig and Sandy Koufax . Twelve busloads of fans from Minneapolis-St. Paul came to support their favorite son at the ceremony, many wearing Puckett's Number 34 jersey. At his acceptance speech, he told the crowd, "Don't feel sorry for yourself if obstacles get in your way. I faced odds when glaucoma took the bat out of my hands, but I didn't give in or feel sorry for myself. It may be cloudy in my right eye, but the sun is shining very brightly in my left eye."

Kirby Puckett followed his dream as a young boy growing up in the inner city of Chicago, and it led him to stardom. He appears to have remained humble throughout the process, however, and thankful for the years he had as a player as well as for the years ahead. As a young player he did not let his short stature prevent him from becoming a strong and gifted hitter and fielder. Instead of becoming discouraged, he hung a photo of an even shorter player, Hall of Famer Hack Wilson at 5'6" and 190 pounds, for inspiration. While playing award-winning ball games, Puckett still found time to give back to his community, and even after losing part of his eyesight continued to serve in an uplifting way.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Address: Kirby Puckett, c/o Minnesota Twins, Metro-dome, 34 Kirby Puckett Place, Minneapolis, MN 55415. Phone: 612-375-1366. Email: fanfeedback@twins.mlb.com. Online: http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/.

SELECTED WRITINGS BY PUCKETT:

(As told to Greg Brown) Be the Best You Can Be, Waldman House Press, 1993.

I Love This Game!: My Life and Baseball, Harper-Collins, 1993.

Career Statistics

Yr Team Avg GP AB R H HR RBI BB SO SB
MIN: Minnesota Twins.
1984 MIN .296 128 557 63 165 0 31 16 69 14
1985 MIN .288 161 691 80 199 4 74 41 87 21
1986 MIN .328 161 680 119 223 31 96 34 99 20
1987 MIN .332 157 624 96 207 28 99 32 91 12
1988 MIN .356 158 657 109 234 24 121 23 83 6
1989 MIN .339 159 635 75 215 9 85 41 59 11
1990 MIN .298 146 551 82 164 12 80 57 73 5
1991 MIN .319 152 611 92 195 15 89 31 78 11
1992 MIN .329 160 639 104 210 19 119 44 97 17
1993 MIN .296 156 622 89 184 22 89 47 93 8
1994 MIN .317 108 439 79 139 20 112 28 47 6
1995 MIN .314 137 538 83 169 23 99 56 89 3
TOTAL .318 1783 7244 1071 2304 207 1085 450 965 134

(With Andre Gutelle) Kirby Puckett's Baseball Games, Workman, 1996.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Contemporary Black Biography. Volume 4.

"Kirby Puckett." Detroit: Gale Group, 1993.

Who's Who Among African Americans. 14th edition. "Kirby Puckett." Detroit: Gale Group, 2001.

Periodicals

Swanson, William. "Kirby without Tears." MPLS-St. Paul Magazine (June, 2000): 84.

"When It Comes to Helping Kids, Kirby Puckett Is All Heart!" Sports Illustrated for Kids (May, 1997): 19.

"Winfield, Puckett Head Baseball's Class of 2001 Hall of Fame Inductees." Jet (August 20, 2001): 52.

"Zorich, Puckett & Johnson among Most Caring Athletes." Jet (February 20, 1995): 47.

Other

Baseball Reference.com. "Kirby Puckett." http://www.baseball-reference.com/ (October 31, 2002).

Boone, Matthew. "MLB Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett Divorcing Wife." SportsScoops.com. http://www.sportsscoops.com/ (February 22, 2002).

Major League Baseball Official Info: Community Programs. http://mlb.mlb.com/ (November 1, 2002).

Minnesota Twins Official Web Site. http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/ (November 1, 2002).

National Baseball Hall of Fame. "Kirby Puckett." http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/ (November 1, 2002).

Ramstad, Evan, Associated Press. "Puckett Declares Innocence after Appearing at County Jail." Yahoo! Sports. http://sports.yahoo.com/ (October 21, 2002).

"Rotary Club Releases Branch Rickey Award Finalists." BizJournals.com. http://www.bizjournals.com/Denver/ (August 6, 2002).

Yahoo! Sports. "Hall of Famer Puckett Charged with Sexual Assault." http://sports.yahoo.com/ (October 18, 2002).

Sketch by Ann H. Shurgin

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Puckett, Kirby 1961–

Kirby Puckett 1961

Professional baseball player

At a Glance

A Long Road to the Majors

Learning to Hit Home Runs

They Call Him Puck

Re-Signs With Twins

Selected writings

Sources

Kirby Puckett is living proof that one neednt be tall and lean to achieve baseball superstardom. The five-foot-eight-inch Puckett has excelled both as a hitter and fielder for the Minnesota Twins for almost a decade and has helped his team to earn two World Series crowns. Little guys can be giants in the big leagues, and... Minnesota slugger Kirby Puckett embodies the notion in a big way, wrote Roy Blount, Jr., in Sports Illustrated. Blount went on to call Puckett a genie self-summoned from a half-pint jar and a powerhouse made of springy sacks of cement.

Puckett knew from his teen years that he would never hit six feet in height. He still thought he might have a chance to play professional baseball if he worked wholeheartedly toward that goal. It was no secret I wasnt going to be tall, he told Sports Illustrated. So I figured if I cant be tall, Ill be strong. A bodybuilder, like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Indeed, although Puckett is short, he weighs over 200 poundsthe product not of overeating but of years of dedicated weightlifting and bodybuilding. Today he laughs when the subject of his body comes up. You dont get to pick your body, he said in Esquire. God just hands em out as he sees fit. Would I like to be six-four or six-five, be tall and thin, look, like Darryl Strawberry? Sure, that would be cool. Didnt work out that way, though. I got what I got.

On the field, Puckett is a fierce competitor, winning a Gold Glove at his position every year since 1986 and smacking home runs in the nick of time to save his team from losing the World Series. Off the field, he is a genial, easygoing man who enjoys great rapport with his teammates and a veritable love-fest with Minnesota fans. There is no prejudice in Minneapolis at all, he told Sports Illustrated. Its one of the best places for interracial things, the kind of place that you want your kids to grow up in. Even if I get traded Ill keep a house in Minneapolis.

Pucketts comfortable home in the Minneapolis suburbs is a far cry from the Robert Taylor Homes on Chicagos South Side, where he was born in 1961. Sports Illustrated correspondent Rick Telander calls the projects where Puckett grew up the World Series champions of inner-city, abandon-hope-all-ye-who-enter-here public housing. The youngest of nine children of William and Catherine Puckett, Kirby spent the first twelve years of his life in the Taylor Homes. He hardly seemed to notice the gangs

At a Glance

Born March 14, 1961, in Chicago, IL; son of William (a postal employee) and Catherine Puckett; married Tonya Hudson, 1986; children: Catherine. Education: Attended Bradley University (Peoria, IL), and Triton Community College (River Grove, IL).

Baseball player with Minnesota Twins organization, 1982. Drafted by Twins in first round of January 1982 free agent draft; played for the Elizabethton (Tennessee) Twins in the Appalachian League, 1982, and for the Visalia Oaks in the California League, 1983. Joined parent team on May 8, 1984, as outfielder. Played on World Championship teams, 1987 and 1991.

Awards: Numerous awards include Calvin Griffith Award as Minnesota Twins most valuable player, 1985; made American League All-Star Team, 1986-92; Rawlings Gold Glove Award for defensive play, 1986; Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, 1987, 1988, and 1989; Gold Glove Award, 1991; rated best hitter in the American League by Baseball America.

Addresses: Home Edina, MN. Officec/o Minnesota Twins, Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, 501 Chicago Ave. South, Minneapolis, MN 55415.

and the drugs, however. Baseball absolutely consumed him. He spent most of his childhood on makeshift diamonds, with base paths and strike zones scratched out with stones or chalk. After dark he would spend hours in his room with rolled-up socks and aluminum foil bats, imagining game situations and hitting home runs in his head. I was a kid enjoying myself, he told Sports Illustrated. Id come home from school, do my homework, then look for kids to play ball with.... I loved baseball so much I was always thinking of ways I could keep playing.

Pucketts parents encouraged his interest, and he became something of a neighborhood celebrity at a young age. Even when I was eight years old, I felt like something special, he said in Esquire, because when I was eight, I was already playing with kids who were older. Puckett gives his parents credit for helping him to survive the harsh ghetto conditions, citing them as his true heroes in life. He added in Esquire: I see some of these guys in the big leagues who came from those nice grassy fields in the suburbs and I just want to say, You have no idea But I wouldnt have wanted to grow up any other way.

A Long Road to the Majors

Puckett did not begin to play organized baseball until he went to high school. At Calumet High in Chicagoand for a semipro team called the Chicago Pirateshe played third base, a position he chose because third basemen were not expected to hit home runs. He began his rigorous weight training in high school when it seemed certain that he would always be short. The training helped increase his speed on the base paths and his endurance, but it was not enough to win the confidence of the major league scouts. He did not receive any contract offers as a high school senior, so after graduation he went to work at a local Ford manufacturing plant.

A year later, Puckett again tried to catch the attention of a scout. He attended a free-agent tryout for the Kansas City Royals. The tryout resulted not in a bid for professional ball, but rather in a college scholarship to play baseball for Bradley University in Peoria. The Bradley coach, Dewey Kalmer, moved Puckett from third base to center field and worked with him on his offense. By years end Puckett had earned the first of a string of awardshe was named to the all-Missouri Valley Conference team.

Puckett left Bradley after only one year because his father died. To be nearer to his mother, he enrolled in a Chicago-area junior college, Triton Community College. It was during his one season there that he finally caught the eye of the scouts. He hit .472 with 42 stolen bases, and he could bench-press 300 pounds. The Twins decided to draft this potential source of talent high in the first round of the January 1982 draft. Their farm director had seen Puckett play in an Illinois collegiate league during the strike-shortened 1981 season and had been suitably impressed.

As with almost every major leaguer, Puckett was sent into the minor league system, first to Class A Elizabethton in the Appalachian League. There he hit .382 and led the league in seven statistical categories, including batting, at-bats, runs, hits, total bases and stolen bases. Baseball America named him that leagues player of the year. In 1983 he was promoted to a high Class A team in Visalia, California, where he batted .314 and was selected the California Leagues best major league prospect. He joined the parent club in the spring of 1984.

Learning to Hit Home Runs

In his major league debut on May 8, 1984, Puckett had four hits in five trips to the plate. By seasons end he led the Twins in multi-hit games and was voted their rookie of the year. Only one cloud marred Pucketts otherwise rosy horizonhe could not seem to hit the long ball. Despite averaging .292 in his first two years with the Twins, he had only four home runs. With mock contempt, Reggie Jackson called Puckett a Punch and Judy hitter. Before the 1986 season, Puckett underwent an intensive overhaul of his hitting during spring training. Batting coach Tony Oliva taught him how to trust his strength and speed and to stop worrying about getting jammed by the pitcher. Before I was too anxious, Puckett told Sports Illustrated in May of 1986. I didnt want [pitchers] to throw the ball by me. So I lunged and hit a lot of weak grounders. The problem corrected, Puckett became an explosive force for the Twins and a yearly member of the American League All-Star team.

In 1986 he hit 31 home runs and drove in 96as a lead-off hitter. He also won his first Gold Glove Award as a fielder for his deceptively strong throw from center field and his ability to make spectacular leaping catches of balls destined for the seats. He finished sixth in the American Leagues Most Valuable Player balloting and was second in the league in runs scored (119). As Telander noted, Maturity and weight training had finally turned Puckett the runt into Puckett the pit bull. Former Twins manager Ray Miller told Sports Illustrated of Puckett: You look at him, and you think hes a fat little kid. You touch him, and hes like concrete.

All of Minnesota warmed to the new superstar, especially as the Twins advanced toward the World Series in 1987. Puckett had another exceptional year, batting .332 with 28 home runs and 99 runs batted in. Once again he won the Gold Glove at his position and made the American League All-Star team. He was also a commanding presence during the American League Championship Series and the World Series, tying a World Series record for most times reaching base in a game (5), most runs scored in a single game (4), and most hits in a World Series. Somehow he also found time to host The Kirby Puckett Report, a television show in his adopted hometown.

If the career of Kirby Puckett can be said to have one shining moment, it has to have been in the sixth game of the 1991 World Series. The Twins had come from last place to first in order to qualify for the Series, and in one of the most exciting World Series ever played, they faced the Atlanta Braves. In the sixth gamea must-win situation for the Twins, who trailed in the SeriesPuckett smashed an eleventh-inning home run that won the game for the Twins and forced a seventh game, which they also won. Esquire contributor Mike Lupica called Pucketts heroic long ball the kind of shot that comes out of one October and lands in all those that follow. Puckett told Sport magazine that he considers winning two World Series championships his greatest accomplishment as a player. There can only be one champion, and we were it, he said. We went as high as you can go in baseball.

They Call Him Puck

Puckett was given the nickname Puck as a result of his short stature. As the years have passed the nickname has taken on a warm connotation, a testament to the fond feelings his teammates and fans have for him. Puckett added to his unconventional appearance when he began to shave his head prior to each baseball season. Minnesotas Puck has turned himself into everything an every-day player can be, wrote Blount. What he has done is take traditional little-guy attributes, nimbleness and drive, and conjure with them. The reporter added: Drive can get on peoples nerves. But Puckett has channeled his tenacity into an almost uncanny geniality.

In 1989 Puckett briefly made history by becomingat the timeprofessional baseballs highest-paid player. His three-year, $9 million contract was a record at the time but has since been passed by the likes of Bobby Bonilla, Barry Larkin, and Danny Tartabull. Puckett told Esquire that he spends little time thinking about what he is paid. You might think Im lying, he said, but I dont worry about the money, I really dont. Business is business.... I worry about being consistent. The Twins will make a decision when the time comes, Ill make a decision, there wont be any hard feelings. If I have to go, I have to go.

Re-Signs With Twins

Puckett and the Twins made a decision about Pucketts future in Minnesota following the 1992 season, during which Puckett led the American League in hits (over 200), ranked second in batting average (.329), and batted in over 110 runs. On December 4,1992, Puckett announced that he had decided to stay in Minnesota and that he had signed a five-year, $30 million deal with the Twins. I had more lucrative offers, Puckett said at the signing of the second-biggest contract in baseball history, confirming rumors that he had been offered as much as $35 million by other teams. But I thought about my family. I didnt only think about baseball. Whos to say that you will be much happier elsewhere? The grass isnt always greener on the other side. Im happy to be a Minnesota Twin for the rest of my career.

Kirby Puckett lives near Minneapolis with his wife Tonya and their daughter, Catherine. The affable Puckett told Esquire that he couldnt be happier with the way his life has turned out. Im living out my dream every day, he said. I think of myself as an average person. Ive never thought I was Gods greatest gift to the game of baseball. But I came in smiling and Im gonna leave smiling.

Selected writings

I Love This Game! (autobiography), 1993.

Sources

Detroit News, December 5, 1992.

Esquire, April 1992.

Oakland Press (Oakland County, Michigan), December 5, 1992.

Sport, September 1990.

Sports Illustrated, July 23, 1984; May 12, 1986; June 15, 1987; April 6, 1992.

Mark Kram

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Kram, Mark. "Puckett, Kirby 1961–." Contemporary Black Biography. 1993. Encyclopedia.com. 23 Jul. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Kram, Mark. "Puckett, Kirby 1961–." Contemporary Black Biography. 1993. Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2870600056.html

Kram, Mark. "Puckett, Kirby 1961–." Contemporary Black Biography. 1993. Retrieved July 23, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2870600056.html

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