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You could probably fill a book (and for all I know someone has) with the horrible things baseball players have done in their off hours. Much like artists whose brilliance seems to walk hand in hand with madness or just plain asshattery, the Hall of Fame contains quite a few people who were pretty vile people outside the lines. There are plenty of nice guys, too, but the complete biographies of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and others have some chapters that are just hard to get through.

Which I suppose is as it should be; these are people, after all, with all the faults and problems that flesh is heir to. Sports announcers to the contrary, the ability to hit .400 over the course of a season or deliver a clutch hit in the World Series says nothing about the quality of one's character. Still, one might wish that today's sportswriters -and I am thinking specifically of Frank DeFord here- were not quite so quick or gleeful to seize on the misdeeds of the men we revere as heroes for their accomplishments on the ball field.

Thus we arrive at Kirby Puckett, who probably deserved a better death than he got, dying alone in an Arizona hospital far from the Metrodome where he achieved so much. It would be much more pleasant to recall him only in the days of his glory, leaping like Michael Jordan to snatch a double away from Ron Gant and then smashing a homer to win Game Six of the '91 World Series. I can still remember seeing him charging down the path from second to third, screaming and hollering with joy, his round, muscular body pumping away.
Unfortunately, the sportswriters are only too happy to point out the feet of clay, the accusations of infidelity and groping, the divorce...matters that perhaps would have been best left for the historians instead of the sports sections and the radio talk shows.

His numbers speak for themselves; those and his Happy Warrior personality got him into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. If he didn't quite know what to do with himself after being forced to retire early, well, that's not too unusual for baseball players or CEOs. It reminds you, just a little, of Wile E. Coyote going full-tilt after the Roadrunner and suddenly discovering that he's run off the cliff as the ground drops away, but people are not cartoons and the hard smash of impact can often be lethal as your whole world falls off its axis. It's happened to enough baseball players that we should all recognize the script by now. Still, when it happens to one of your favorite players, it still hurts. Me, I'm going to do my best to remember his moments in the sun and forget the parts that maybe weren't so great. I'll leave those parts to the DeFords and Barreiros who make their living sorting through the sewage for the particularly repulsive turds of life, and throwing muck at those rare men whose accomplishments they could never hope to equal. It makes me think better of Sid Hartman. For all that I slam him as a slavish acolyte of the owners, it must be noted that he rarely if ever says anything negative about the players as individuals, and for that he deserves his propers.

Rest in peace, Kirby. You made a lot of people very happy in your time, did a lot of good in other ways not so public, and if you did wrong now and again, well, you were only human. Just like the other heroes.

UPDATE: Crossposted to the Armchair GM wiki, which is hosting a blogosphere tribute to Puck.

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( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
stuckintraffik
Mar. 7th, 2006 08:14 pm (UTC)
He was a great ballplayer. I got to go to game 2 of the '91 series. Nosebleed seats way out in the rafters past left field. You needed binoculars just to see the outfielders. We had a guy with a little TV in the row behind us - when Hrbek lifted the guy off the base we mobbed the guy to see the replay. There's a story about the end of game 5 - the Twins were tired, they'd just lost three games straight, and Kirby was the one to hold 'em together. He reminded them they had been there in the '87 series, exact same run - win the first two, lose the middle three - and that they'd won it. He gave 'em hope, and when they came back they took it in games 6 and 7. He was part of the reason I was into baseball for as long as I was. After his retirment and the strike, baseball just didn't hold me anymore. He was already missed - this is just one more reason.
wombat_socho
Mar. 7th, 2006 08:27 pm (UTC)
I think that's been part of the Twins' problem since he retired. There's really been no center to the team, no franchise player with the kind of impact Kirby had. One gets the feeling that Joe Mauer was supposed to be The Man, but dour blue-collar Germanic grit doesn't supply the same spark...plus, there's no ensemble of players like Hrbek, Gagne, Gladden and Knoblauch (yeah, I know they didn't all play on both teams) to back up the superstar even if we had one.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 7th, 2006 11:15 pm (UTC)
Beautiful tribute, Wombat. I will miss Kirby's infectious smile. Athletes like him don't come around everyday. Heck, people like him don't come around everyday! The world beacme just a bit colder without him in it.

Zippychik
wombat_socho
Mar. 7th, 2006 11:58 pm (UTC)
Thanks.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 17th, 2006 07:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks Kirby for the memories.
It's sad of Kirby's passing and he created a lot of wonderful memories and help gave us 2 world series. I saw on the news yesterday a cool painting of Kirby is being made, I also saw the painting, its pretty big, its like he is realy there. It was sure great to watch him play always so excited and giving 100%, thanks Kirby for the memories.
Life Size Painting of Kirby Puckett (http://www.excerptsofinri.com/mark_sanislo_01.html)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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