Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Kirby Puckett, baseball god?

I know what I'm going to write may piss a few people off. But I've never been shy about voicing my opinion. It's how I truly feel. Consider yourselves warned...

Kirby Puckett passed away last last night. When word had come out over the weekend that Puckett required brain surgery after a stoke, you were expecting the worst. When the worst did arrive, it was very sad and sobering news.

Say what you will about Puckett, you cannot deny that he was a great ball player, one of the best of his era. You must also say thay he was an extremely flawed human being, as we learned after his retirement. Much as we learned of other great athletes, there were two Kirby Puckett's. There was the Puckett we all watched play and read about, the legendary Minnesota Twin. Unfortunately, there was also the Puckett that didn't adjust well to life after baseball, who we only heard about when he had trouble with his health or the law.

In other areas of the blogosphere, you will find well written tributes to the man that was Kirby Puckett, such as Eno's and Ian's, to name just two local examples. So I'm not even going to attempt an obituary, as it's been done and done well. But something was bothering me, and it hit me this afternoon.

It was the thought that the life of Kirby Puckett can, in no way, live up to the tributes and obituaries written and reported by much of the mainstream media. If you had no idea who Kirby Puckett was, you would have thought that a player of the magnitude of Babe Ruth or Ted Williams had passed. Not that Kirby Puckett wasn't an elite ball player. He was, but is he spoken of in the reverential tones of a Ruth or Williams? No. That's not dissing Puckett, it's fact.

It just seems to me that the canonization of Puckett has spun out of control over the past 24 hours. I realize he was a first ballot hall of famer whose career was cut tragically short due to the onset of glaucoma. Puckett deserved the majority of the praise that has come his way after his death. Hell, he should have recieved many of these accolades while he was alive. But I think it was after reading today's column by ESPN's Jayson Stark, that is when I realized that we've crossed the line from celebrating the life and talent of Kirby Puckett to placing him on such a pedestal that the war hero that was Ted Williams wouldn't have been deemed worthy.

Here's a few examples of the hyperbole...

Yet Kirby Puckett's presence, impact and aura were larger than any number on any stat sheet, more imposing than any trophy on any shelf.

There was no greater treat in the life of any player than to get to spend a moment, however brief, chatting it up with Puck.

Heck, everybody knew Puck -- from South Dakota to the South Bronx.

It was Kirby Puckett's world. Everyone else in town was just grateful he handed out plenty of tickets for the ride.

I'm sorry, but much of Stark's tribute was so over the top, you'd have thought the world lost a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Even if Puckett was more well known than most any of them...

I can understand words as these coming from men Puckett played with, men who knew him well. Even a player as polarizing and judgemental as Jack Morris had nothing but good things to say. But some writers and broadcasters seem to have misplaced their objectivity and have put him at a such an exhalted level that even Puckett himself would say was too reverential.

The media has to feed the 24 hour beast it has become. So everyone has to put in their two cents in regard to a story as big as Puckett's death. But I've heard more praise heaped upon the legacy of Puckett since his death than I ever heard when he was alive. The media has to remember that they are reporting on people, good and bad, warts and all. They are not gods who did no wrong, and should not exhalted more in death than in life.


  1. Yeah, I love Kirby. I'm eating up all these tributes I'm reading, but still, you can't help thinking about the post-baseball unpleasant stuff. Slate also provides some perpective at http://www.slate.com/id/2137741

  2. I have to agree with you--and thank you for actually having the balls to say it.

  3. I don't think what you wrote was that inflammatory, Big Al. Maybe I just haven't read the types of articles you're referencing (such as Stark's), but most of the tributes I've read celebrated Kirby the personality, not necessarily the player.

    Ken Rosenthal said one of his colleagues actually thinks the Hall of Fame voters were a bit hasty in voting Puckett in on the first ballot.

    You could see a struggle in some writers to mention the post-career troubles with infidelity and abuse, and that seemed to be the proverbial white elephant in the room. But those who were truly being honest did, I felt, a good job in alluding to those matters while celebrating the man on the field. It was another reminder that we just don't know these guys, as much as we might think we do.