The beloved baseball savant was a dynamic and clutch MLBbro who died too young but left a legacy of greatness behind. A diminutive firecracker who was built like a Mac Truck, Puckett brought class and World Series-superstar respect to the small market franchise in Minnesota.
The great Kirby Puckett produced arguably two of the greatest moments in Minnesota sports history in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series.
Atlanta Braves fans still get sick when they hear Jack Buck’s famous words, “And we’ll see you tomorrow night.”
Puckett’s success was seen early and often in his career. Nowhere was that talent more prevalent than in Elizabethton where he began his career in 1982. The kid from Chicago was the third overall pick in the MLB January Draft and played in 65 of 68 Elizabethton’s games that season.
Puckett’s life played out in many parts. He escaped from the Robert Taylor Homes, a housing project on Chicago’s South Side — and as good as he was at baseball he was offered no scholarships coming out of Calumet High School. With no scholarship offers Puckett went to work on the assembly line at Ford Motor Company, before being given an opportunity to play the game he loved at Bradley University.
After one season at Bradley he transferred to Triton College, where he set single-season records for hits (120) and triples (8) for the Trojans.
Puckett was always a good hitter but didn’t really become a power hitter until later in his career. He batted .382 for the E-Twins who finished (32-36) that season and Puck lead the Appalachian League in that category. An even more incredible stat is for every game he played, the lead-off man scored a run (65). He also totaled 105 hits, 35 RBIs, 43 steals and belted three home runs.
He was voted to the Appy League All-Star team, but league MVP was given to Paintville’s Dan Pasqua.
With his quick progress, Puckett was promoted to the Class AAA Toledo in 1984, before being called up to Minnesota 21 games into the season. He finished third in American League Rookie of the Year voting behind Alvin Davis and Mark Langston, both of the Seattle Mariners. But the writing was on the wall and we knew Puckett was here to stay.
Even without hitting any homers he still batted .296.
After his second season, he was elected to 10 consecutive All-Star games.
Coming off his brilliant 1986 season, where he finished top 10 in nine major categories, Puckett was poised to lead the Twins to the promised land.
In 1987 the Twins entered the postseason at (85-77) and were playing October baseball for the first time since 1970. He struggled most of the postseason but came up clutch in the Twins’ Game 7 World Series upset win over the heavily-favored St.Louis Cardinals. He batted .357 and the “Twin Cities” hoisted its first WS title in 63 years (1924).
The 1991 World Series was Puck’s shining moment, as he made plays you have to google to believe. The Twins were facing a red-hot Atlanta Braves team who had won 55 of its last 83 games behind the dominant pitching trio of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery, who’d won a combined 52 games that season.
Minnesota was more battle-tested, while Atlanta was thought to be the more talented, but inexperienced. The Braves hadn’t won a division since 1982 and just got by Barry Bonds’ Pittsburgh Pirates in a tightly contested seven-game NLCS.
With his team trailing the series 3-2, Puck had one of the more iconic games in baseball history. His third-inning leaping catch against the plexiglass wall of the old Metrodome, robbed Braves outfielder Ron Gant of an extra-base hit. The great Tim McCarver was doing color commentary.
He then topped that with an 11th-inning walk-off homer run on a 2-1 count to force Game 7. Twins would win Game 7 and their second “Fall Classic” in five seasons, with both going the distance.
In March of 1996, Puckett woke up and didn’t have vision in his right eye. He was later diagnosed with glaucoma and placed on the disabled list for the first time in his career.
The glaucoma didn’t get any better and he was forced to retire in July following three surgeries. At the time of his retirement, he was still a force to be reckoned with. His .318 career batting average was the highest for a right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio.
Puckett was the fourth player in the 20th century to record 1,000 hits in his first five full seasons and the second to record 2,000 hits in his first 10 seasons.
His No.34 was retired by the club in 1997. Former Red Sox superstar David Ortiz wore the same number for years to honor the friendship he and Puckett had formed as teammates when “Big Papi” began his career in Minnesota.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001 on the first ballot.
In March 2006 Puckett suffered a major hemorrhage stroke and underwent emergency surgery. The surgery failed and Puck died on March 6, he was only 45.
He was so beloved in the “Twin Cities” that 15,000 people showed up at the Metrodome for his funeral despite an impending blizzard.