Today is not the day to remember the repeated allegations of sexual improprieties by Kirby Puckett, today is the day to remember the player who for 12 years brought a joy to the game of baseball.
When we looked at rotund 5-foot-8, 230-pound Puckett, we didn’t see the classic athletic build of his teammate Dave Winfield. We saw one of us. We saw what could have been one of the guys who we play ball with Sunday afternoons in the park.
That is until we saw what the man could do with a baseball.
He brought joy and pleasure not only to his legions of Minnesota Twins fans who adored watching Puckett, but to fans of every team. He was no Joe DiMaggio look-alike in center field, but when Puckett retired following the 1995 season with a .318 career average, it was the highest career batting average for a right-handed batter since DiMaggio's .325 mark.
He had four hits in his very first game, and by the time his career came to a premature end, he had hit 207 home runs, drove home 1,085 runners and stole 134 bases. He finished with 2,304 hits, and his 2,040 hits in his first 10 years were more than any other player in the 20th century.
In 1986, he was an All-Star, Gold Glove winner, and Silver Slugger, playing in 161 games for the second straight season while hitting .328 to finish third in the league (to Wade Boggs), third in the league in slugging (to Don Mattingly), second in runs (to Rickey Henderson), second in hits and total bases (once again to Mattingly), and his 31 homers were sixth (to Jesse Barfield). In that year, NBC announcer Bob Costas jokingly promised that if Puckett was batting over .350 when his child was born he would name his kid Kirby. That’s the story behind Keith Kirby Costas.
In 1988, Puck hit .356 with 24 home runs and 121 RBI, and for the second straight season finished third in MVP voting. The next year he “slumped” to .339, only good enough to win the batting crown.
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