Few men have played the game of baseball with the youthful enthusiasm of Kirby Puckett. His ever-present smile, leadership skills and outgoing personality made him a fan-favorite in Minnesota.
His clutch skills on the diamond made him one of the best all-around players in the game.
“Kirby Puckett is the kind of player you hope and dream that your franchise will have,” said Andy MacPhail, former general manager of the Twins. “He does everything on the field to help you win, and what he does in the clubhouse and the community is remarkable.”
Born on March 14, 1960 in Chicago, just a mile from Comiskey Park, Puckett was the youngest of nine children. An All-American third baseman in high school, Puckett received no baseball offers following graduation. After a free agent tryout, Puckett eventually earned a baseball scholarship to Bradley University, later transferring to Triton College.
Drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1982 as the third overall pick in the January Draft, Puckett raced through the minor leagues and made his big league debut on May 8, 1984, recording four hits in his big league debut. He would hit .296 in 128 games that year and finish third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.
In 1986, Puckett added power to his game, belting a career-high 31 home runs while earning the first of six Silver Slugger Awards. In 1987, Puckett led the AL in hits with 207 while helping the Twins win their first World Series title, hitting .357 in Minnesota's seven-game victory over the Cardinals. He paced the AL in hits again in 1988 and 1989, leading the league in total bases in 1988 (358) and batting average in 1989 (.339).
In 1991, Puckett led the Twins back to the postseason, winning ALCS MVP honors after hitting .429 to lead Minnesota past the Blue Jays. In the World Series, Puckett's performance in Game 6 became part of baseball history. He robbed the Braves' Ron Gant of an extra base hit with a leaping catch at the Metrodome's center field wall in the third inning, then gave the Twins a 3-2 lead with a fifth-inning sacrifice fly. And with the game tied at three in the bottom of the 11th inning, Puckett homered to give the Twins a win and force Game 7 – where Minnesota would win on the strength of Jack Morris' 10 shutout innings.
“He never had a bad day,” said fellow Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. “I don’t care how bad things were going on or off the field, Kirby found a way to make you laugh. He was a breath of fresh air in this game.”
A six-time Gold Glove Award winner, Puckett was named to 10 consecutive All-Star teams from 1986-1995 and was named MVP of the All-Star Game in 1993. He finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting seven times during his 12-year career.
Puckett’s career was cut short because of retina damage in his right eye, ending his playing days following the 1995 season. He finished with a .318 batting average, 414 doubles, 207 home runs and 1,085 RBI in 1,783 games.
Puckett was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001. He passed away on March 6, 2006.