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 Minnesota Twins > Twins Greats > Kirby Puckett
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Kirby Puckett
Kirby Puckett

Elected to Hall of Fame by Baseball Writers in 2001, Player
423 votes on 515 ballots 82.14%

Born: March 14, 1961, in Chicago, Illinois
ML Debut: 5/8/1984
Primary Position: Center Fielder
Bats: R Throws: R Primary Uniform #: 34
Played For: Minnesota Twins (1984-1995)
Primary Team: Minnesota Twins

Post-Season: 1987 ALCS, 1987 World Series, 1991 ALCS, and 1991 World Series
Awards: All-Star (10): 1986-1995; All-Star Game MVP 1993; Gold Glove (6): 1986-1989, 1991-1992; 1991 ALCS Most Valuable Player

"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

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"When Kirby Puckett was in the outfield and a ball was hit to him, you were very, very cautious because he had a cannon for an arm, and it was accurate. He enjoyed playing the game. He played the game. He played with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of love, and a lot of respect for the game of baseball."
-- George Brett, Hall of Famer

Kirby Puckett, after hitting his famous game-winning home run in the 1991 World Series was widely regarded as one of the best, and most popular, Major League Baseball players of the 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s.

An unheralded player in high school, he showed no signs of being a great player until after he had left the team at Bradley University in 1980. He decided to give baseball a second chance a year later, after catching the eye of scouts while playing recreational ball in his native Chicago. He moved on to Triton College (in Illinois) and was subsequently drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the first round of the 1982 baseball draft.

At the time, Kirby Puckett was a slap hitter and outstanding defensive center fielder. Puckett used those skills to hit a whopping .382 in his first minor league season, with Elizabethton (Tennessee) in 1982, and then rocketed to the major leagues in less than two years, earning promotion to the Twins on May 8, 1984.

When he debuted in the majors in 1984, he was one of the league's best rookies. He became the ninth player in major league history to debut with four hits in a nine-inning game. In 128 games, Kirby batted .296, drove in 31 runs and stole 14 bases. He collected 25 bunt singles that season and only 17 extra-base hits. In addition, he led American League outfielders with 16 assists.

He had a similar season in 1985, when he played in every game, batted .288 driving in 74 runs and stole 21 bases. Coincidentally, in 1985, the song Centerfield by John Fogerty was released as a single. The single created an immediate association in Minnesota with the electric performance and humble personality of the team's rapidly rising center fielder.

In his third season, Kirby really burst into stardom. It all began in the off-season, when he worked with hitting coach Tony Oliva on driving the ball for distance. Despite his small stature 5 ft 8 in, Kirby had the immense strength and quick wrists of a power hitter. In 1986, he blasted 31 home runs, 96 RBI’s, 37 doubles and raised his batting average to .328. He also won the first of his six Gold Glove Awards for outstanding defensive play.

In 1987, he led the Twins to their first championship in the World Series after batting .332 with 28 home runs and 99 RBI’s and 12 stolen bases in the regular season. His performance was even more impressive in the seven-game series upset of the St. Louis Cardinals, batting a whopping .357 with 10 hits and 3 RBI’s. Kirby also continued to race around the bases finishing the season third in the American League in total bases with 333.

In 1988, he had his statistically best season, hitting .356 with 24 home runs and 121 RBI’s. He finished third in the MVP balloting for a second straight season. He won the American League batting championship in 1989 with a mark of .339, making him the first right-handed batter to win the title in eight years. He finished the year with just 9 home runs and 85 RBI’s.

In 1990, the Twins went to last place in the division, finishing with a 74-88 record, 29 games out of first. Kirby continued to play well and hit .298 that season with 12 home runs and 80 RBI’s.

In1991, the Twins got back on the winning track and Kirby led the way batting .319, eighth in the league and had 15 home runs, 89 RBI’s and 11 stolen bases.. Minnesota surged past Oakland in midseason and captured the division title, then upset the favored Toronto Blue Jays in five games in the American League playoffs. Kirby batted .429 with 2 home runs and 6 RBI’s in the playoffs to win MVP honors.

The World Series which followed is considered by many to be the most exciting ever. Both the Twins and their opponent, the Atlanta Braves, had finished last the year before winning their league pennant, something that had never been done before. Going into Game 6, the Twins trailed three games to two and had to win to stay alive. Puckett helped to hold off a late Atlanta rally with a leaping catch off the outfield wall. The game went into extra innings, and in the first at-bat of the bottom of the 11th, Puckett hit a dramatic walk-off home run off Charlie Leibrandt to keep his team alive. This dramatic game has been widely remembered as the high point in Puckett's career. The images of Puckett rounding the bases, arms raised in triumph, are always included in video highlights of Puckett's career, often accompanied by CBS Sports commentator Jack Buck's words, "And we'll see you tomorrow night!" The next night, Puckett's Twins won 1-0 in 10 innings for their second World Championship.

The Twins contended for one more season and then began to slip, but Kirby Puckett never did. In 1992, he led the league with 210 hits, hitting .329 with 19 home runs, 110 RBI’s and 17 stolen bases. In 1993, he hit .296 with 22 home runs, 89 RBI’s and 8 stolen bases.

In 1994, he won his first league RBI title by driving in 112 runs in just 108 games. He hit .317 with 20 home runs and 6 stolen bases. In 1995, he was having another brilliant season hitting .314 with 99 RBI’s when he was sidelined by a bean ball from Dennis Martínez which shattered his jaw in late September.

He recovered fully and returned to the Twins for spring training in 1996. On March 28, he woke up unable to see out of his right eye. He was diagnosed with glaucoma, and several surgeries in the months to come were unable to save his vision in the eye. On July 12, 1996, Kirby Puckett announced his retirement from baseball. He was 35 years old. His lifetime batting average of .318 was the highest of any right-handed batter since Joe DiMaggio.

The Twins retired his number 34 in 1997. In 2001, he became the third youngest man ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, only Lou Gehrig and Sandy Koufax were younger. He got elected at age 40 in his first year of eligibility. In 1999, he ranked Number 86 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

Kirby Puckett had been well admired throughout his career and for some years after. His unquestionable baseball prowess, outgoing personality, charity work, community involvement, good rapport with the media, and nice-guy attitude earned him the respect and admiration of fans across the country. However, Kirby was arrested after allegedly groping a woman in a bar restroom on September 5, 2002. He was acquitted of all criminal charges. Unfortunately, for Kirby, the negative publicity continued as allegations of womanizing and other emotional and physical abuse against him surfaced, and he and his wife Tonya divorced in a bitter conflict. Since these problems, Kirby Puckett has largely withdrawn from public appearances.

In 12 Major League Seasons, Kirby finished with a career average of .315, 207 home runs, 1085 RBI’s, 134 stolen bases and 2304 hits. Underestimated because of his small size, Kirby never let the doubters get him down. For inspiration, he kept a picture of another large outfielder -- Hack Wilson -- hanging above his locker.

In those 12 seasons, the Twins captured two World Series Championships largely because of his ability and leadership. He won six Gold Gloves for his defense and was a known threat behind the plate as well. He was more than a Twins “great” he was a baseball “great”.

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