I’m often critical of loud-mouthed professional athletes who spend more time whining and showboating their own stats than helping their team. The classic example is Terrell Owens (whose website I don’t have the heart to link here) but we could all name a host of others, both current players and “favorites” from over the years.
But baseball just lost a legend. Kirby Puckett, who played his whole career under one uniform (the Minnesota Twins) just died yesterday, at the age of 45, after suffering a stroke. He’s the second youngest player ever to die as a living Hall-of-Famer (Lou Gehrig, 37). He was also one of the most popular baseball players of the 80s… with his short, stocky build and his infectious smile you knew the guy loved what he was doing and it was hard not to cheer for him even when he was on the “wrong” team. In a 2004 Sports Illustrated survey of Minnesota residents he was ranked as the greatest athlete in state history. And in baseball circles it is still marveled how — in Game 6 of the ’91 World Series — Puckett pretty much, for all intents and purposes, won the game himself.
What they say about someone after they go is truly telling… here’s what they say about Kirby:
I could see how much he loved playing the game of baseball. His enthusiasm rubbed off on all his teammates including me. It was fun being his teammate.
- Bert Blyleven, longtime teammate of Kirby Puckett
It’s tough to take. He was one of those guys. Man, he was a good human being. He had some faults, we knew that, but when all was said and done he would treat you as well as he would anyone else. No matter who you were.
- Terry Ryan, Twins general manager
There was no player I enjoyed playing against more than Kirby. He brought such joy to the game. He elevated the play of everyone around him.
- Carlton Fisk, Hall of Fame catcher
I wore one uniform in my career and I’m proud to say that. As a kid growing up in Chicago, people thought I’d never do anything. I’ve always tried to play the game the right way. I thought I did pretty good with the talent that I have.
- Kirby Puckett