Kirby Puckett

In his prime, Kirby was the most beloved athlete in Minnesota. It wasn't just a .318 lifetime batting average, the 10 All-Star appearances, or the two championships. Puck possessed a potent gift for setting people at ease. Some of that was attributable to garden-variety charisma. But some of it was more complex than that. Unlike a lot of the post-Ali black athletes, Puckett never seemed to make an issue of race. Given the demographics of the upper Midwest fan base (and the conflict-averse regional identity), Puck's "friendly black guy" persona was a big part of his popularity. After his retirement, of course, Puckett's reputation took an awful beating. An ex-wife, an ex-mistress, a former Twins employee, and a female bar patron all had stories to tell. If the details were cloudy and sometimes disputed, the overall pattern was not: Kirby—the orbital, cuddly mensch whom Minnesotans so loved to love—had an unseemly history of abusive behavior directed toward women. In the wake of these revelations, Puckett withdrew. He moved to Arizona, where he golfed, packed on the pounds, and largely vanished from public view. According to media reports, as recently as this year, Puckett rebuffed overtures from the Twins organization to rejoin "the family." Time, it seems, doesn't heal all wounds. Death is another matter. The first-day news coverage made perfunctory mention of Puckett's post-baseball troubles. But serious reflection about Puckett's character flaws was essentially obliterated in the media-fueled torrent of nostalgia, Peter Pan-esque adulation, and pious remembrance. The giant memorial at the Dome was the penultimate step on the way to Kirby's ultimate beatification by the fans and the press. That will be fully realized when the Twins finally get their new stadium—Kirby Puckett Park. It is sad but true: Kirby was worth more to the Twins dead than alive.


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