A sports icon left us at the age of 45 yesterday. Kirby Puckett wasn't the greatest home run hitter in Minnesota Twins' history - Harmon Killebrew was. He was also not the greatest hitter - that honor would probably go to Rod Carew or Tony Oliva. Greatest outfielder? Close, but some may favor current Twin Torii Hunter. However, when you look at all of "Puck's" skills - hitting for average, power, hustle, and fielding his position, you just may have the greatest Twin player of the team's 45 years in Minnesota. If you add his bubbly personality and general likability, and the fact that he certainly didn't have the physical appearance of a professional baseball player, I think you come up with an icon.
Some people didn't think Puck deserved first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame. I'm not in that camp. His total numbers were not great, BUT when you consider he only played 10 seasons, they weren't too shabby. Over 1000 RBIS, 200 home runs, a .318 BA, and six Gold Gloves - not bad at all.
I put Kirby in the class of Hall of Famers like Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean. All three of these players had relatively short careers, ended prematurely by injury, so their career totals were not the equal of some of their peers in the Hall. 300 wins? Koufax and Dean both had far short of TWO hundred career wins. Like Puckett, though, they were dominant for a few short years. There probably aren't a lot of readers who remember Dean as a player, though, of course, we "Baby Boomers" remember him as the announcer on the "Game of the Week" network TV games in the '60s - the man who taught us grammar (as in 'he slood into second base') with his own unique vocabulary. A slugger trying to hit a home run was "going for the Downs" (as in Churchill Downs). Anyway, we don't remember Dean's pitching, but he did win 30+ games in one season (1934), the last pitcher to accomplish that until Denny McLain in 1968. No one's accomplished it since 1968, either, making the current drought of 38 years longer than the 34-year stretch between Dean and McLain.
Anyway... baseball fans my age certainly DO remember Dodger lefty Koufax. After toiling rather ineffectively for seven years, Koufax was unbelievable from 1962 until he retired at the top of his game after the 1966 World Series, Five years later, he was a Hall-of-Famer. If someone looked ONLY at his career wins, they'd have to wonder how in Earth THAT happened?
Rest in Peace, Puck. You deserve a rest. We'll have the memories.