Fans and friends of Kirby Puckett wait and hopeby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Former Minnesota Twin Kirby Puckett remains listed in critical condition in an Arizona hospital after suffering a stroke on Sunday. Fans of the Hall of Fame outfielder reacted to the news with sadness and shock.
Minneapolis, Minn. — With the lunch hour winding down at Hubert's Bar and Grill in downtown Minneapolis, customers finish up their meals surrounded by pictures and other memorabilia from Minnesota sports stars, including Kirby Puckett.
"We've got one of his Gold Gloves that he signed," says Hubert's owner Steve Anderly.
Anderly points to a glass display case on the wall of his bar. Besides the Gold Glove award given to Puckett for outstanding fielding, the bar is home to an autographed Puckett jersey on another wall.
Anderly says he's met Puckett several times. He says Puckett and other players used to frequent the bar before they won the Twins' World Series in 1987.
"He's always been a personable and hospitable guy, always had time for the fans. Always with a smile and a 'How ya doing,'" he says. "Kind of struck us all as pretty hard, a guy 44 years old going down with a massive stroke," Anderly says.
Some of the Hubert's customers work at the Hennepin County Medical Center, located right across the street. Jackie Skof is one of them.
"It's sad -- unfortunate. Hope he gets well," Skof says.
Was she surprised that he was stricken by stroke?
"Yes and no," she says. "Obviously it's something you're surprised about that it happened. But, seeing him over the last couple years, not really surprised on the health care end."
Skof is referring to Puckett's weight gain. He gained a considerable amount of weight since being diagnosed with glaucoma and was forced to retire in 1996. Some of Puckett's former teammates had also reportedly expressed concern over his size in the weeks and months before the stroke.
"I also think that people don't want to be aware," says Denise Teske, a registered nurse for more than 30 years. "I think that they ignore the signs and symptoms. It's easier to do that and (say), 'It's not going to happen to me.'"
Teske says obesity and high blood pressure are some of the risk factors for stroke. Teske says more people need to pay close attention to these and other stroke prevention measures.
Aside from his physical stature, in the world of baseball Puckett was a larger-than-life figure. Over his 12-year career Puckett, maintained a batting average of over .300. He was a 10-time All Star. Puckett won the American League batting title in 1989, and helped the Twins win World Championships in 1987 and 1991.
Sports Illustrated columnist Steve Rushin grew up in Bloomington and now lives in Connecticut. He says Puckett is one of the greatest athletes he's ever covered.
"I've been writing for Sports Illustrated for 18 years now. And still, one of the greatest performances I've ever seen live was Game 6 of the 1991 World Series," Rushin says.
In that game against the Atlanta Braves at the Metrodome, Puckett made a leaping run-saving catch, and followed that feat with a game-winning home run. Rushin was in the clubhouse following the game.
"It was already past midnight, and basically Game 7 was going to be taking place later that day on Sunday," Rushin said. "And reporters were asking him, 'Are you going to be able to get any rest tonight, are you going to be able to recover?' He's just had one of the great World Series performances ever. And I'll never forget Kirby saying, 'I'll sleep when I'm dead.'"
Puckett received baseball's highest honor in 2001, when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
But things began to go downhill from there. Puckett and his wife Tonya split amid allegations that Puckett was unfaithful and abusive. In 2003 Puckett was accused of sexually abusing a woman but was acquitted.
Puckett later shrunk from public attention and moved to Arizona.
Rushin says the allegations shocked him and other fans. He says he didn't see anything in Puckett's public persona that hinted at that type of behavior. However, Rushin says ultimately Puckett will be remembered both for his triumphs and his trials.
"Unfortunately, a lot of people who are 20 years old today don't remember much of seeing Kirby Puckett play. So I think his legacy will be a mix of both," says Rushin.
But for many baseball fans and sports writers like Steve Rushin, Puckett will be most remembered for what he did on the field, and for his role in bringing two world championships to Minnesota.
- All Things Considered, 03/06/2006, 5:20 p.m.