To say that Kirby Puckett was my favorite baseball player when I was growing up would be an understatement. Ten years of my life were spent on a quest to acquire every baseball card of his and fill my room with other extraneous memorabilia (e.g. the Kirby Puckett candy bar, pancake mix, and Christmas card from the Pucketts). He was supposed be one of those rare players that are good role models on and off the field. Basically, nobody had anything bad to say about him through his career and induction into the Hall of Fame.
Then we learned that away from the game Kirby was far from perfect. It’s not clear to what extent it was deserved, but nobody has had much good to say about the man for the past few years. I disowned my hero. Perhaps I should have payed attention to that ABC After School Special or very special episodes of Blossom and Saved By the Bell.
Since Kirby passed away earlier this week, people have been sending me condolences like he was a family member. It’s quite a strange phenomenon, and I’ve had mixed feelings about my former idol.
This is what I’ve worked out so far. Kirby Puckett was one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Despite the disadvantages of a poor upbringing and suboptimal physique, he became one of the 15,000+ professionals in the sport’s history, led his team to two championships, and became the most recognizable figure in an entire state. He played with joy, passion, and respect for the game. He chose to stay with one team for his entire career despite the opportunity for a higher salary. Puckett gave back to his native and adopted communities. He was grateful to have the chance to play the game, and not bitter that his career ended early. These are to be admired regardless of whatever else Puckett has done.
Whether it was the result of his meager youth, abrupt end to his playing career, or the hubris of celebrity, Puckett’s life was certainly not as pristine as we believed. Here’s hoping that his wish to have his organs donated are a closer representation of the man than what we’ve heard over his last few years.
(Twins blogger extraordinaire Aaron Gleeman is having the similar mixed emotions.)