Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The smile is gone

I was already in a sad, melancholy mood last night (which I should probably save for my other blog), so it's possible that the news of Kirby Puckett's death affected me a little harder than it might have at a different day or time. But when I first read the news online, I had to stop what I was doing because it was such a punch in the chest to me.

Yesterday, after hearing about Puckett's stroke, I was going to write a brief note expressing my disbelief that it'd been 10 years since he retired from baseball. Since I didn't have much more to say than that, however, I left it unwritten while hoping that, like my father seven years ago, Puckett would recover and resume a productive life.

To me, the guy is still the Minnesota Twins. And whenever the Tigers played them, even 10 years after Puckett retired, I expected to see him in centerfield. I wanted to see him, because even though I wasn't a Twins fan, per se, Puckett was one of my favorite players to watch. It was probably that squat, roly-poly body of his. If he could do that, while carrying around that kind of luggage, then maybe I could, too.

(Photo by Tony Tomsic/ US Presswire)

In high school, I wrote a term paper on Negro League baseball for a history class. And I used Puckett as my entry to the subject, writing that I couldn't imagine baseball without a player like him, someone who brought so much joy to the game. Whenever I think of my favorite calls in baseball history, my memory pushes Jack Buck's "We'll see you tomorrow night!" after Puckett's home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series to the top of the stack.

Retiring the way he had to, due to glaucoma taking away the vision in his right eye, seemed unfair. He should've been able to retire on his terms, to make that decision himself, when he knew he couldn't play baseball the way he had before.

It was jolting to see Puckett's physical deterioration - the afflicted eye that could barely open, the significant weight gain - once he stepped away from the game. And his public image suffered greatly when his name was attached to extramarital affairs, divorce, and sexual assault lawsuits (of which he was eventually cleared). What happened to the man who seemed to derive so much joy from his life? But how many know of us what it's like to have your livelihood taken away like that? How would it feel to be so good at something, only to have the body that once brought prosperity ultimately fail you?

Kirby Puckett was only 45 years old, days away from his 46th birthday. It just doesn't seem right. I really do miss that smile. And I miss his joy.

As you might imagine, with so many great baseball columnists and bloggers out there, plenty of people have written tributes to Puckett:

▪▪ Batgirl is the blog to read when you want stuff on the Twins. Here is her goodbye.

▪▪ The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, of course, has a lot of coverage in today's edition, led by Joe Christiansen's obituary.

▪▪ Both The First Ring and A Day in the Life explain what Puckett meant to Minnesota.

▪▪ Greg Eno remembers Puckett's tenaciousness, which often seemed to come at the Tigers' expense.

▪▪ ESPN.com's Jim Caple covered the Twins for 10 years with the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

▪▪ According to Tim Kurkjian, everything you need to know about Puckett was seen in that sixth game of the '91 World Series.

▪▪ While also remembering that memorable Game 6, Sports Illustrated's John Donovan says no one showed more exuberance than Puckett.

▪▪ Puckett was the only person to ever call Peter Gammons "Petey."

▪▪ FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal shares his memories of an amazing ballplayer.

▪▪ The Cheap Seats has an image of Puckett's Hall of Fame plaque.

▪▪ Finally, here's a transcript of Puckett's Hall of Fame induction speech from 2001.

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