March 18, 2003


THE PUCKETT PIECE: Over the weekend I finally read Frank Deford's Sports Illustrated cover story on the fall of Kirby Puckett (excerpted here, but not online). After now reading it a second time, my comments are four:
1. I've said this many times before in this space, but Kirby Puckett is no less than my favorite athlete of all time. My AOL screenname used to be KIRBY34RF. I personally saw him win two world championships, attended his Hall of Fame induction, met him two or three times, and observed as his legend was created- that of the greatest Twin of all time, and the biggest icon Minnesota had ever seen. And alas, it was just that- a legend. To see that the man I'd always thought was the embodiment of everyhing that was virtuous turn out to be the exact opposite- in fact, a serial philanderer and abuser of women- was one of the saddest things I've ever experienced as a sports fan- and indeed, the dissolution of Kirby Puckett may be the saddest non-death event in recent sports history. Had it happened when he was still playing and I was 12 years old, myself and a whole generation of fans may well have been scarrred for life.
2. That said, I didn't feel from reading the piece that Deford was able to get across exactly how important Kirby Puckett was to the Twin Cities during and after his 12-year career. Unlike, say, Mike Piazza or Roger Clemens, who are big fish amid an even bigger pool of New York celebrities, Kirby Puckett was not only the most popular athlete in Minnesota- he was the most important person in town, period. The revelations about Puckett's misdeeds came out around the time of the Twins' near-contraction; I'd be willing to wager that more Minnesotans than not were hurt more deeply by the Kirby revelation- the bad news that didn't get undone the following year.
3. Also, the piece was generally devoid of new information, and (aside from new allegations that members of the Twins front office paid off a woman to settle a sexual harassment suit and otherwise covered for Puckett and his mistresses) not much content that wasn't already dealt with in Bob Sansavere's similar piece in the St. Paul Pioneer Press last fall (which had the same headline, and almost all of the same sources). Also missing is an interview with Kirby himself, who has yet to respond to the past year and half of allegations- obviously he's not talking, but why the cover story when the subject isn't interviewed and no news is being made? And why so many quotes from marginal local radio personality Jeff Dubay- did Reusse, Barreiro, and Sid refuse to cooperate or something? Regardless, the piece has gotten tons of attention in the Twin Cities; my dad said he went to go buy a copy of the magazine tonight and it was sold out everywhere in town.
4 .It was crass, but not altogether inappropriate, for Deford to tie Puckett's all-too-public fall from grace in with his recent drastic weight gain (Puckett, who was never in the best of shape even in his prime, is now well on the northside of 300 pounds, and even fatter than infamously chubby former teammate Kent Hrbek). I think it sums up Deford's piece best that nothing in the story made the tragic point of Kirby's fall better than the opening-page photo, an illustration of an overweight Kirby behind sunglasses, with an image of his younger, rookie-era ballplayer self in the frames, and a singular tear streaming down his left cheek.

Posted by Stephen Silver at March 18, 2003 12:28 AM
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