Posted at 7:42 AM on March 7, 2006
by David Zingler
Less than 15 years after he ended Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, Kirby Puckett is dead. Carl Pohlad and Herb Carneal are still with us and Kirby is not. It doesn't make sense.
As a high school junior I attended the before-mentioned Game 6. Sitting in the first row behind the plexi-glass in left-centerfield, I can still see that small white ball sailing into immortality. Back then, at age 16, I thought of Kirby the same way -- immortal, untouchable. I was not the only one. We all know the events that changed that perception. They are true and they are sad, but they are not the way we should remember Kirby.
Here in Minnesota, we've been blessed with several spectacular athletes who have flirted with greatness, but only Kirby has delivered when it mattered most. After losing Game 5 in Atlanta 14-5, the Twins returned home trailing 3 games to 2 and had every reason to roll over. Kirby wouldn't have it. What he did in Game 6 is the greatest performance in our state's history (sorry Jack Morris, there is no 10 inning, Game 7 shutout without Kirby).
In this information age of intense media scrutiny, the true hero is dead. Let's not blame Kirby for that. It's up to Puckett's family to assess his transgressions; Game 6 is his legacy to us. Farewell Kirby, you're the best we've ever had.
This game is one which has stood the test of time. It has seen hero's rise and fall, played host to men from all walks of life, from the average joe and the nobody, from poor farm kids, and urban street rats, from school teachers, bankers, janitors, and more. From the simple grass loving, ball throwing men and women of America, to the great heroes of their times.
There have been the horrible but spectacular (Ty Cobb), the childish but amazing (Babe Ruth, Rube), the men of true grit and perseverance (Jackie Robinson, Henry Aaron), and so much more. In each of their careers and lives there were moments at which they were heroic, and moments at which they seemed merely human. Kirby Puckett, like all of them had these moments as well, but he too, like the greats mentioned above, brought something to the game that made him truly legendary.
The respect and enthusiasm he brought to the game was a true depiction of the way our National Pastime was meant to played. He honored those that came before him, paving the way for his own story, while at the same time respecting those around him, and appreciating and counseling those that came after him. He was a true embassador of the game.
What Puckett meant to the Minnesota Twins organization, the fans of said organization, and the game in general cannot be summed up with mere words alone. The state sits stunned today, due to the loss of a great hero. Entire generations grew up and were drawn to the wonderful game of baseball simply by this one man. His humor and humbleness, his excellent play, his never ending hustle were all inspirational to people nation wide.
When I was just barely old enough to understand what baseball was, I was swinging sticks around and kicking my leg like Kirby, I was wearing number 34 just like him, and playing center field. I practically wanted to be him, and I know I wasn't alone.
Just last night I had a number of friends come to my house, we spent the night just sitting, drinking beers, eating hot dogs, and telling story after story of moments when Kirby Puckett touched our lives and our hearts.
Kirby Puckett was a true hero. One who helped probably millions of children learn about, respect, and love the game of baseball, while at the same time understanding the hardships and rewards of life. He was the type of hero which come along way too infrequently in our world, and one which I will never forget.
Kirby was qouted after the '91 World Series, stating that before that infamous game 6 he had thought that he would "rest when he was dead." Well Puck, as much as it kills me to say it, you've earned your rest. All I can say is thank you for ALL the memories, I love you, and MN and baseball will forever miss you and your smile.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king's horses
And all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again.
It is not a fastball in the eye socket this time, though in a way it is.
World Series Champion. Hall of Fame. Human Being.
Maybe that's the way to leave it for now.