Short man. Short career. Big games.
With Kirby Puckett's death come the accolades.
Death brings out slaps on the back.
In recalling Puckett, a post-career, sexual misconduct trial will likely
surface, as that is fresher in the minds of many and a reason Puckett distanced
himself from the Minnesota Twins.
But lawyers I knew -- I worked at a law firm during the trial -- looked upon
the charges with considerable skepticism, and their appraisal of the case was
right. Puckett was quickly acquitted.
If you happen to be one of those "Barry Bonds is guilty until proven
innocent" folks when it comes to steroids, then you have to give Puckett a
pass: he was tried and acquitted for these allegations; Bonds will never be
Which is not to say Puckett was the perfect human people want their heroes
to impossibly be. It was no secret Puckett was not perfect.
Puckett's actions were not a secret to some who covered the team, but
baseball munches marriages like M&Ms.
Puckett as a player didn't resist the same temptations lots of married
ballplayers fail to resist, yet fans never heard about that until after he
retired, when it became national news during the sexual misconduct trial.
This is no excuse, but if young certified public accounts or high school
janitors traveled often and young girls hung out in bars to meet them, they
would cheat on their wives as often as ballplayers.
The only reason a lot of folks resist temptation is it never introduces
I never expected perfection of Puckett -- or any woman in his life who knew
he was married but cheated anyway, for that matter. I saw enough of him while
covering the first 10 years of his career to know he was the only player whose
Hall of Fame induction I ever wanted to attend.
That never changed, and having been there means a tad more now.
Loud Cooperstown call
When Puckett's career ended in '96, the debate began about his worthiness
for the Hall of Fame. A good friend of mine suggested in an email Puckett would
not be inducted. I had been skeptical, but already asked myself about his
legitimacy and had done the research. I told my friend we should plan to be in
Cooperstown in five years.
And we were.
You can't beat research.
I started with Bill James' system in his wonderful book about the Hall of
Among the totals Puckett had:
- Seven seasons over .300, one over .350=22.5 points
- Five seasons of 200 or more hits=25 points
- Three 100-RBI and 100-run seasons=18
- One 30 homer season=2
- One season of 45+ doubles; six hitting 35+=8
- Two World Championship teams on which he played CF=10
- One season leading the league in hitting, one in RBI, four in hits=18
- Career hit totals and .300 average=8
- Six Gold Gloves, 10 All-Star appearances=36
When James' criteria was all totaled, Puckett was at 151.5 points. At the
time, 130 points was a bonafide, gen-u-ine Hall of Famer.
Then I hauled out a fine annual once published by the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Elias Analyst was a large book with small type containing a few
hundred thousand bits of information that made you wonder how anyone would
think of most of this stuff.
Damn, those boys got "granular," long before people used that
What I found, year-by-year, confirmed there would be a trip to CoopTown. The
research also drilled a big hole in the argument that clutch hitters don't
1984: Tied AL record with 4 hits in 9 inning game in MLB debut. .
.averaged 3.5 PO/9, highest rate of any AL OF.
1985: Major consistency: His BA leading off an inning, with runners
on, with 2 outs and runners in scoring position, at the Dome, on turf, were all
within 2 points of his '84 stats. . .career batting average of .323 with
runners on base, .275 with bases empty. . .led majors in OF putouts.
1986: Career BA of .333. vs. LHP highest in MLB spanning past 12
seasons. . .had 66 multi-hit games, 2nd in majors to Mattingly. . .hit 19 of
his 35 career homers on the road.
1987: Only major leaguer with 200-plus hits and 25-plus HRs in both
'86 and '87. . .batted .431 on Sundays (as I said, someone tracks down this
stuff, and it would never be me). . .led majors in BA on the road. . . leading
hitter against LHP of any major leaguer since 1975. . .career BA of .337 with
runners on and two out. . .batted .363 on road and .302 at Dome.
1988: 234 hits. 121 RBI. No major leaguer had that many hits and that
many RBI since Joe Medwick in 1937. Last AL player to match those figures was
Al Simmons in 1925. . .third straight season of 200-plus hits and 25-plus HRs.
Only others to do that are Jim Rice, Lou Gehrig and Chuck Klein. . .had 11-game
RBI streak in September.
1989: What do you think Kirby hit with runners in scoring position
and the Twins trailing by one run? How about 13-for-21 (.667). Batted .575 on
balls hit up the middle, .326 to right, and .306 to left. . .batted .304 vs.
LHP, a career LOW. . .led league in hits for third straight season, tying
Ginger (I'm Not Hugh) Beaumont, Cobb, Hornsby, Frank McCormick, and of course,
1990: Had hits in 7 straight ABs. . .advanced from first to second on
4 outfield flyouts to lead AL. . .career .334 average vs. LHP is highest in 14
years of The Analyist. . .One of 2 players to drive in over 30% of
runners in scoring position in each of his last 6 years. The other: George
Brett. . .only one other player accumulated more hits over 1,000 games: Wade
1991: Led MLB with .406 average vs. LHP. . .His career BA of .342 vs.
LHP is more than 20 points higher than anyone in the past 17 years. . .Puckett
had 265 doubles, 100 SB, and 98 OF assists. Aaron had 280 doubles, 73 SB, and
98 OF assists. Hank had the HR edge, 270-123.
1992: Led AL in hits for 4th time, most of any player since Oliva
(5). Other 4-time leaders: Cobb, Lajoie, Kuehn and Foxx. . .Led league in total
bases for second time. . . drove in more than 30% of runners from scoring
position in each of past 8 seasons. . .George Brett had done it for 18 years .
. .For a few days last June, Puckett led the AL in both singles and extra-base
hits, a truly remarkable parlay when you think about it. The few players to
ever do it over an entire season: Lajoie, Cobb, Slaughter and Musial
Former Twins' manager Tom Kelly said it best. If you're not going to
induct Kirby Puckett, why have a Hall of Fame?