Simply Baseball Notebook: Perspectives

Puckett's Fall From Grace

'PERSPECTIVE': November 2002

Kirby Puckett's Fall from Grace

Puckett was a Minnesota icon.

When I close my eyes I can still see that little white ball flying over the plexi-glass that once extended the left-center field wall of the Metrodome, I can still remember the pandemonium that ensued, and I still have the Homer Hanky I waved that night. I was there, in the first row, one section from where Kirby Puckett's game winning home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series landed. I was sixteen at the time, it is something I'll never forget.

In 1991 Kirby Puckett could do no wrong. He was loved throughout the country; worshipped in Minnesota. When Puckett's contract expired after the 1992 season, Minnesotans threatened a mutiny at the thought of him leaving. When he eventually signed a 5 year $30 million contract (one of the largest at the time) it was called a bargain. When he retired during the 1996 season due to an eye condition, we wept.

On October 18 Kirby Puckett was charged with one count of false imprisonment, a felony, and one count of fifth degree sexual assault, a gross misdemeanor. The charges stemmed from an incident involving a woman he allegedly dragged into a rest room at an Eden Prairie restaurant in September.

These are allegations, Puckett still gets his day in court, and he may be cleared of any wrong doing. That, however, does not diminish the fact that Puckett's once sterling image has been severely tarnished. In fact, not much has gone well for the former superstar since his Hall of Fame induction in August of 2001.

In February of this year his wife, Tonya, filed for divorce and string of nasty allegations, including abuse and infidelity, followed. At one point a women claiming she had been his mistress for over a decade came forward. Puckett, who was once a fixture at the Metrodome and in the front row of Timberwolves games at the Target Center has dropped out of sight.

I do not know Kirby Puckett, I have bumped into him a few times at and around the Metrodome. He has always been friendly, exchanging a "hello." The fact is, most of us do not know him or any other of these superstar athletes we are constantly assigning character traits to.

You know what I mean: Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson are jerks, but Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken are the salt of the earth - those are the overwhelming opinions of the media and fans. It could be true, but the point is we don't know and probably never will. Just because a person smiles in front of the camera and says all the right things doesn't mean he is a genuinely good person any more than it means that someone is a jerk if they bristle at the media and voice unpopular views.

There is a danger in making too much of an athlete and assigning character traits to people when we get just a glimpse of their life. There is nothing wrong with enjoying sports. The ability of these men can leave us breathless, make us leave our seats, and forget about our often bland existence and the troubles that come with it. It is commendable that they have put the time and effort in to harness their natural ability and play a game at it's highest level but, at the same time, it says nothing of their moral fiber.

Sadly, there is a harsh lesson to be learned in Kirby Puckett's recent plight. I lost another tiny bit of that little boy that is struggling to survive inside me. I'll always have Game 6, but the Kirby Puckett I thought I knew that night is long gone.

-David Zingler

Puckett's page @ Baseball-Almanac.com

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