"He has a magic wand up there. Kirby Puckett and Rod Carew both have magic wands. The difference is Puckett has dynamite in his." - Calvin Griffith

As a hard core Boston Red Sox fan, it takes a lot for me to respect a baseball player from another team. Kirby Puckett is such a player. A pure hitter, who gained his power stroke in his third season of play, Puckett grew up to become the core of the Minnesota Twins in the late 1980's and early 90's. A short, stocky player, Puckett had no problem coming in contact with the baseball. He is respected for more than his bat, as he played his entire career with the Twins, brushing off better paying contracts from other teams. Kirby was a solid player, who desired to be consistent rather than famous. Appropriately, he was elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Kirby Puckett was born on March 14, 1960 in Chicago, Illinois. He was the youngest of 9 kids and grew up in the housing projects in the South Side of Chicago. Growing up, his family was so poor that he played baseball with a makeshift bat and used crumpled aluminium foil for a ball. After high school, Kirby took a job with the Ford Motor Company, before becoming a census taker. His break into baseball came during a tryout camp for the Kansas City Royals. While the Royals were not interested in Puckett, the baseball coach from Bradley University was, and Kirby was moving from the projects to college.

He only spent one year at Bradley University before transferring to Triton College so he could be closer to home. Kirby entered into the 1982 MLB Draft and was chosen third by the Minnesota Twins. In the Minor Leagues, Kirby won the Appalacian League Player of the Year award in 1982 and the California League Rookie of the Year award in 1983. He was called up to the majors for the 1984 season. Kirby's first game was on May 8, 1984 and he started his career off with a bang. He hit four hits in his debut, tying a Major League record, as the ninth player to do so in his first game. He would go on to finish third in the Rookie of the Year Balloting, behind Alvin Davis of Seattle and Mark Langston.

Kirby Puckett's first year in the Majors was not marked by power. Able to make good contact, Puckett did not hit his first home run until April 22, 1985. In his rookie season, he had 17 extra base hits, five less than the number of bunt-singles he had that year. Kirby struggled with the power stroke until the 1986 season, when the new manager for the Twins, Tom Kelly, brought in hitting coach Tony Oliva. Oliva taught Kirby to step in to the swing and shift his weight better. The change was immidiate and impressive. In the 1986 season, Puckett smacked 31 round-trippers, making him the first player to have a 0 and 30+ home run season in his career.

Kirby continued his production every year. In 1987 and 1991 Kirby led the Twins to the World Series and to victory. He was named World Series MVP in 1991 not only for his spectacular offense, but also for his defense, as he robbed Ron Gant of an extra-base hit with a leap into the Metrodome's plexiglass. He finished that game with a solo home run in the 11th inning. 1987 and 91 were the only two times in Kirby's career that the Twins made it to the playoffs.

To say Kirby Puckett's career was going well is an understatement. He consistantly hit over .300, and was able to produce hits and runs for his team. In 1992, he shoved off better offers from richer teams to stay in Minnesota, earning him the respect of fans everywhere. However, like Tony Conigliaro, Kirby's career would be cut short by a wild pitch. On September 28, 1995, Kirby was hit in the face by a Dennis Martinez pitch. The ball shattered his jaw and burst a small artery in his face. Kirby's season was over.

Resiliant, Kirby was determined not to give up. He showed up for the Twins' Spring Training the following season. On the last day of spring training, March 28, 1996, Kirby awoke, unable to see. After a trip to the hospital, Kirby Puckett was diagnosed with glaucoma. On July 12, 1996, wearing a white eye-patch over his right eye, Kirby Puckett announced his retirement from Major League Baseball. The Twins, almost immediately, offered Kirby a front office job, and he remained involved in the Twins organization until 2002, when he retired to Scottsdale, Arizona, where he lived until his death.

On May 25, 1997, The Minnesota Twins retired Kirby's #34 jersey as part of a 90 minute pre-game ceremony. Four years later, Kirby Puckett, along with Dave Winfield, Bill Mazeroski and Hilton Smith were inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame. It was Kirby and Winfield's first year of eligibility. At the age of 40, Kirby was the third youngest player to be enshrined in Cooperstown, after Sandy Koufax and Lou Gehrig.

Who knows what Kirby Puckett could have accomplished if it weren't for that one pitch. He was well on his way to 3,000 hits, as he had over 2,000 in less ten seasons, the fastest to reach that mark. He was a superb all-around player, who hit for average, akin to Padres' star Tony Gwynn. His reputation has recently been slightly marred from a recent law-suit even though he was found not guilty. Even though, Kirby will always be known for his actions at the plate and in center field. He still remains a true ballplayer to be admired.

I had awoke early, as I do every Monday and flipped on ESPNews. The breaking news box in the lower right hand corner of the screen boldly proclaimed "Kirby Puckett suffers massive stroke." At some point during the day, Puckett had underwent major brain surgery in order to save his life. Unfortunatly, Puckett had passed by nightfall. He died at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Kirby was engaged to be married for a second time in the summer, and is survived by two children from a previous marriage.

Statistics:

Positions: Center Field/Outfield, 2nd Base, 3rd Base, Short Stop.
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Height: 5' 8"
Weight: 210 lbs.

All-Star : 1986-1995;
All-Star Game MVP : 1993
Gold Glove : 1986-1989, 1991-1992
AL Silver Slugger : 1989
 Year Tm   G   AB    R    H   2B 3B  HR  RBI  SB CS  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG 
 1984 MIN 128  557   63  165  12  5   0   31  14  7  16  69  .296  .320  .336 
 1985 MIN 161  691   80  199  29 13   4   74  21 12  41  87  .288  .330  .385 
 1986 MIN 161  680  119  223  37  6  31   96  20 12  34  99  .328  .366  .537 
 1987 MIN 157  624   96  207  32  5  28   99  12  7  32  91  .332  .367  .534 
 1988 MIN 158  657  109  234  42  5  24  121   6  7  23  83  .356  .375  .545 
 1989 MIN 159  635   75  215  45  4   9   85  11  4  41  59  .339  .379  .465 
 1990 MIN 146  551   82  164  40  3  12   80   5  4  57  73  .298  .365  .446 
 1991 MIN 152  611   92  195  29  6  15   89  11  5  31  78  .319  .352  .460 
 1992 MIN 160  639  104  210  38  4  19  110  17  7  44  97  .329  .374  .490 
 1993 MIN 156  622   89  184  39  3  22   89   8  6  47  93  .296  .349  .474 
 1994 MIN 108  439   79  139  32  3  20  112   6  3  28  47  .317  .362  .540 
 1995 MIN 137  538   83  169  39  0  23   99   3  2  56  89  .314  .379  .515 

            G    AB    R    H   2B 3B  HR  RBI  SB CS  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG 
Career     1783 7244 1071 2304 414 57 207 1085 134 76 450 965  .318  .360  .477 

Postseason Statistics:

Year Round  Opp  W-L   G  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO   BA    OBP   SLG  SB
1987 ALCS   DET   W    5  24  3  5  1  0  1   3  0  5  .208  .208  .375   1
     WS     STL   W    7  28  5 10  1  1  0   3  2  1  .357  .400  .464   1
1991 ALCS   TOR   W    5  21  4  9  1  0  2   6  1  4  .429  .455  .762   0
     WS     ATL   W    7  24  4  6  0  1  2   4  5  7  .250  .379  .583   1                       

<-Eddie Plank -- Major League Baseball Hall of Fame -- Old Hoss Radbourn ->

Sources:
http://www.baseball-reference.com/p/puckeki01.shtml
http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/hofers_and_honorees/hofer_bios/puckett_kirby.htm
http://www.pubdim.net/baseballlibrary/ballplayers/P/Puckett_Kirby.stm
http://www.thebaseballpage.com/past/pp/puckettkirby/default.htm
http://cbs.sportsline.com/u/baseball/mlb/2001/hall_of_fame/puckettbio.htm
http://espn.go.com/classic/hof01/puckett.html
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/baseball/mlb/wires/03/06/2010.ap.bbo.obit.puckett.4th.ld.writethru.0737/
Thanks to Avalyn for keeping this updated while I have been gone.

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