Kirby Puckett Biography

Biographies, Hall of Fame

For the past decade or so, the Minnesota Twins have been known as the “piranhas,” a team built on speed and defense that annoys and frustrates opponents. But not too long before current Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen gave the Twins their fishy nickname, the Twins relied on the offensive prowess of players like Kirby Puckett.

Puckett was born in Chicago on March 14, 1960, and he attended Calumet High School before heading to Bradley University in Peoria. The future Hall-of-Famer didn’t stay there long, however. He transferred to Triton College in suburban Chicago before being drafted by the Twins in 1982.

Puckett’s numbers were above average during his first few seasons, but it wasn’t until 1986 or so that he started to move onto the main stage. That was the year that he earned his first All-Star nod and his first Gold Glove, all the while hitting .328.

One year later, the Twins were in the World Series, thanks in no small part to Puckett. He hit .332 during the season with 99 RBI and 28 homers, and his offense–.357 BA in the Series—helped propel the Twins over the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. The center fielder had become a key part of the Twin’s arsenal, both on defense and offense.

Puckett continued to be an offensive leader, hitting .356 with 24 homers and 121 RBI in 1988. A year later, he earned his 1,000th hit, making him the fourth player to reach 1,000 hits in five seasons.

Puckett continued to play well, no matter what happened to his team in the standings. By 1991, the Twins were back in the World Series, thanks to Puckett’s .319 regular season average and .429/2/6 series against the Blue Jays in the ALCS, which won him the ALCS MVP.

Puckett single-handedly saved the Twins in a must-win Game 6, thanks to his circus catch against Ron Gant and his game-winning home run in the bottom of the 11th off of Charlie Leibrandt. He continued to have a strong offensive career, leading the league with 112 RBI in 1995.

The slightly pudgy outfielder was referred to affectionately as “Puck” by fans, and he always seemed to be smiling on and off the field. That happy-go-luck attitude belied the troubles ahead. No one could predict that vision problems would force such a prolific hitter into early retirement. No one knew that in 2006, he’d become the second-youngest Hall-of-Famer—following Lou Gehrig—to die, when he passed away at age 45. Nor did anyone foresee the legal battles that would befall him shortly before his death.

It was a shock to the baseball world when Puckett announced that was going to retire, do to glaucoma. He woke up one morning March of 1996 unable to see out of his right eye, placed on the DL (for the first time in his career), and after several surgeries were unable to restore vision, he was forced to retire. The keen eye that had served him well throughout his career had abandoned him, and the real world waited. The man who had become the face of the Twins—the only major league team he’d ever played for—was no longer able to perform on the baseball field.

In 2002, after his name had faded from the papers, Puckett found himself back in the news. Not because he’d become a broadcaster or front-office executive, but because he was being accused of sexually harassing a woman at a Minneapolis-area restaurant. He was later acquitted, but he was also later accused of performing other lewd acts in public. The Chicago kid who had perfected his image in front of thousands of screaming Minnesotans was no longer looked at as completely squeaky clean.

He’d earned first-ballot Hall-of-Fame honors, 10 All-Star nods, six Gold Gloves, and ALCS and All-Star Game MVP awards, but now he was being seen in a more critical light by the press and public. But his tragic fall wasn’t yet complete.

Early in 2006, news broke that Kirby Puckett had suffered a stroke at his Phoenix-area home. One day later, after emergency surgery had failed, Puckett died, at the young age of 45, just a bit more than a week shy of his 46th birthday. The man that they called “Puck” had lived just half a life, but he had packed so much—both positive and negative—into such a short life.

He now stands, immortalized in statue form, outside of the Twins’ new Target Field. In one form or another, Puckett will always be with the Twins.