Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Kirby Puckettt - RIP


The Twins drafted him in 1982, and he reached the big leagues on May 8, 1984. He celebrated his arrival by getting four hits against the California Angels.

Puckett lore piled up quickly in 1987, when he led the Twins in hits as they came back from a three-games-to-two deficit against St. Louis in the best-of-seven World Series and won their first championship. He now had unqualified success to go with his uninhibited style.

"A 7- or 8-year-old kid watching the game would pick him out, and he just looked different," sportscaster Bob Costas said. "He had an affection for the game, and there was a kind of energy about it that was fun.

"I'm sure he took it seriously. You have to take it seriously in order to be a great player, but there was nothing grim about the way he went about it."

In 1991, the Twins again found themselves trailing in the World Series three games to two, this time to Atlanta.

But Puckett went around telling teammates to hop on his back for Game 6, that he would carry them to victory. Then he delivered two signature moments.

First, he made a leaping catch against the Metrodome's outfield Plexiglas in the third inning and robbed Ron Gant of an extra-base hit, saving a run from scoring. Then, in the 11th inning, Puckett became the ninth player in major league history to win a World Series game with a home run, hitting a changeup from Charlie Leibrandt over the outfield wall and pumping his arms in celebration as he rounded the bases.

"You couldn't hear yourself think in the ballpark," former Twins hitting coach Terry Crowley said Monday. "Kirby was on deck. The manager went to the mound, and Kirby said to me, 'If they leave this guy in the game, the game is over.'

I was in law school in 1991 and will always remember watching Game 6 on TV with a buddy. After Puckett hit the home run, we got in the car and raced downtown. We actually got to a popular bar before people from the game arrived, but within 20 minutes it was pandemonium. We were then able to get our hands on tickets for Game 7, the 1-0, 10 inning classic won by the Twins. After that game, we went out (different bar this time) and I vividly remember Queen's "We Are the Champions" playing at a deafening volume.

Kirby was a hero in this town like nobody before him. Yes, his image was tarnished after the end of his baseball career with various abuse allegations, but he remained an icon. Today is a sad day in Minnesota.

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