Born: March 14, 1961 in Chicago, Ill.
Died: March 6, 2006 in Phoenix, Ariz.
Debut: 1984 | Pos: OF
H: 5'8" | W: 210 | B: R | T: R
>> Visit the Kirby Puckett biography on Baseball Almanac for complete statistics.
Kirby Puckett, a member of Baseball's Hall of Fame, died on March 6, 2006 at his home in Arizona. Puckett suffered a stroke and died at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. He was 45.
Puckett spent his entire major league career with the Minnesota Twins. He led the team to the World Series in 1987 and 1991. His career came to an early end due to glaucoma.
As the third youngest player inducted into the Hall of Fame (Only Lou Gehrig and Sandy Koufax were younger), Puckett's career is a question of what was as much as what could have been.
In 12 Major League Seasons, Puckett finished with a career average of .315, 207 home runs, 1085 runs batted in, 134 stolen bases and 2304 hits. In those 12 seasons, the Twins captured two World Series Championships.
His style of play caught the attention of other Hall of Famers.
"When Kirby Puckett was in the outfield and a ball was hit to him, you were very, very cautious because he had a cannon for an arm, and it was accurate," said George Brett, Hall of Famer. "He enjoyed playing the game. He played the game. He played with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of love, and a lot of respect for the game of baseball."
Kirby Puckett, listed at 5'8" and 210 pounds, could be a deceptive player for his size. However, he earned respect for his defense. He won six Gold Gloves for his defense. For inspiration, he kept a picture of another large outfielder -- Hack Wilson -- hanging above his locker.
Puckett's major league career jumped out to a quick start when the Twins made him the third pick in the 1982 draft. By the end of the 1982 season, he was named Baseball America's Appalachian League Player of the Year. In 1983, he was the California League Rookie of the Year.
When he debuted in the Majors in 1984, it was no surprise that he would do something memorable in his first game. He became the the ninth player in major league history to debut with four hits in a nine-inning game. In 128 games, Puckett batted .296, drove in 31 runs and stole 14 bases. He collected 25 bunt singles that season and only 17 extra-base hits. In addition, Puckett led American League outfielders with 16 assists.
In 1985, he drove in 74 runs and stole 21 bases while hitting .288.Tom Kelly began his career as Twins manager in 1986 and brought in Tony Oliva as hitting coach. The result was the development of some power for Puckett. He hit .328 with 31 home runs and 96 runs batted in. He also added 37 doubles and 20 stolen bases.
In 1987, Puckett hit .332 with 28 home runs, 99 runs batted in and 12 stolen bases. The Twins finished first in the American League West. In the AL Championship Series, Puckett hit just .208, but collected a home run and 3 RBI. The Twins beat Detroit, 4-1. In the World Series, the Twins beat the Cardinals 4-3. Puckett hit .357 with 10 hits and 3 runs batted in. It was the first series championship in Minnesota's history. Puckett finished the season third in the American League in total bases with 333.
In 1988, the Twins won 91 games, but still finished 13 games behind AL West winner Oakland. Puckett responded with one of his most productive seasons, hitting .356 with 24 home runs and 121 runs batted in.
The Twins fell even farther in 1989, finishing 80-82 and 19 games out of first. Puckett hit .339, but had just 9 home runs and 85 runs batted in. That fall continued in 1990 as the Twins went to last place in the division, finishing with a 74-88 record, 29 games out of first. Puckett hit .298 that season with 12 home runs and 80 runs batted in.
All that changed in 1991. It was the year of "Worst to First." Both the Twins and the Atlanta Braves went from finishing last in their divisions in 1990 to playing each other in the World Series in 1991. In the regular season, Puckett hit .319 with 15 home runs, 89 runs batted in and 11 stolen bases.
Puckett helped to carry the Twins to a 4-1 series win over the Blue Jays in the ALCS. Puckett had 9 hits, a .429 average, 2 home runs and 6 runs batted in. The Twins won the World Series over the Braves, 403, and Puckett added another 2 home runs and 4 RBI.
The Twins fell back to second in 1992. Puckett led the league with 210 hits, hitting .329 with 19 home runs, 110 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases. In 1993, the Twins fell back to a tie for fifth in the division. Puckett hit .296 with 22 home runs, 89 runs batted in and 8 stolen bases.
In 1994, Puckett rebounded to hit .317 with 20 home runs, 112 runs batted in and 6 stolen bases. The Twins, however, only finished 53-60 in the strike-shortened season.
The Twins were mired in fifth place in 1995, but Puckett hit ..314 with 99 runs batted in and 3 stolen bases. On September 28, however, Puckett was struck in the face by a Dennis Martinez pitch. The blow left Puckett with a shattered jaw.
He attempted to make his comeback in 1996 and hit .360 in spring training. Then, on March 30, he awoke to find he couldn't see out of his right eye. Puckett was diagnosed with glaucoma. He endured four eye operations in a four-month period, but it did not improve his vision.
Puckett announced his retirement from baseball on July 12, 1996 at the age of 36.