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Recent Blogs


Looking Back: Twins Draft Kirby Puckett

***This article was written several years ago on Twins Daily. It has been edited minimally.

36 years ago today, January 12, 1982, the Minnesota Twins made a decision that altered the trajectory and the history of the organization. On that date, the Twins used the third overall pick in the January portion of the MLB Draft on an outfielder from Triton Junior College named Kirby Puckett.

As you know, in June, players out of high school, junior college and those having finished three years at a four-year college are selected. However, from 1965 through 1986, there was also a draft in January for high school and college players who graduated in the Winter. Kirby Puckett fit into that category.
I assume many know the history of Kirby Puckett. He's a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players in Minnesota Twins history. His legend grew as the leader of the 1987 and 1991 World Series championship teams.

For someone in my age group, we know all about the Kirby Puckett story. However, consider that he has been retired since spring training of 1996. Anyone born after September 28, 1995. never had the chance to watch him play in an MLB game. That means that no one under the age of around 27 or 28 would have memories of watching him during his playing career.

Puckett was born and raised in the projects on the South Side of Chicago, some of the roughest neighborhoods in the country. Following his high school playing days, he received no scholarship offers. He went to work on the assembly line at a Ford Motors plant. He was given an opportunity to play at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, but after one year, he went to Triton Community College.

That's where the Jim Rantz legend was born. Rantz went to Triton one day to watch his son play, but in the process, he also got to see Kirby Puckett play. He was so impressed that he recommended the Twins continue to send scouts to watch him.

Then 37 years ago today, they used the third overall pick to to select the outfielder.

As a 22-year-old, Puckett went to Elizabethton where he hit .382/.438/.491 with 15 doubles, three triples, three home runs and 35 RBI. It may surprise some, but he also stole 43 bases (in 47 attempts) during the short-season.

In 1983, he moved up to Visalia where he hit .314/.366/.442 with 29 doubles, seven triples, nine home runs and 97 RBI. He stole 48 bases in 59 attempts.

Let me make a brief side note here. Puckett was putting up monstrous numbers in A-Ball, but he was already 23 years old, so I imagine had prospect rankings been done by more at that time, he may have been dropped a few spots because he was "too old for the level." (of course, it did come out shortly after his playing career that he was born on March 14, 1960. He had been listed as being born March 14, 1961, throughout his career, although he never hid that information from the Twins.)

In 1984, he jumped all the way up to AAA Toledo. 21 games into the season, he was hitting just .263/.294/.325 with two doubles and a home run. He was also 8 for 10 in stolen base attempts.

The Twins were tired of their centerfield situation that included the likes of Bobby Mitchell and Darrell Brown, and they decided to promote Puckett. On May 8, Puckett debuted with four hits against the Angels.

During his 12-year career, he played in 10 All Star games and won six Gold Glove awards and six Silver Slugger Awards. He finished in the Top 3 in MVP voting three times. He won the batting title when he hit .339 in 1989, but the year before, he hit .356 and finished second to Wade Boggs (.366).

Overall, he hit .318/.360/.477 with 414 doubles, 57 triples, 207 home runs, 1,085 RBI and 1,071 runs scored. He also stole 134 bases.

Obviously his career ended way too soon when, in the spring of 1996, he was diagnosed with glaucoma and could never play again.

He became a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2001. How many of you make that trip to Cooperstown for Puckett's induction? (Me!!)



In 2002, a lot of information came out that destroyed the great-guy persona that Puckett had throughout his playing career. There's no getting around that or excusing that, but those of us who were eight years old when Puckett debuted and remember all the great catches, the home runs, the All Star games, the World Series titles, choose (right or wrong) to remember those things and what Kirby Puckett meant to fans around the Upper Midwest.

Puckett had a massive stroke in March of 2006 and passed away the following day. I had to leave work.

36 years ago today, the Twins drafted Kirby Puckett. He became the Minnesota Twins to so many. I wish I could have met him.

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10 Comments

Very nice rememberance. Thanks, Seth. Puckett was one of my favorite players, too.

 

I've wondered recently how different the perception of Puckett would be today. Fan blogs would have a gripe thread bemoaning his weight and an analytical thread showing how he played too deep in CF and another criticizing his strike zone judgement. All I know is that when he played, unlikely events became likely and it often felt like magic. 

    • sploorp likes this
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Parker Hageman
Jan 12 2018 11:38 AM
That's where the Jim Rantz legend was born. Rantz went to Triton one day to watch his son play, but in the process, he also got to see Kirby Puckett play. He was so impressed that he recommended the Twins continue to send scouts to watch him.

 

 

According to the BA article about Puckett, Rantz's son and Puckett played in the same summer league team in the Central Illinois Collegiate League.

 

Twins scout in the Chicago area Ellsworth Brown (the guy who eventually signed Puckett for the Twins) claimed he was tracking him since his Bradley University days, which would pre-date his season in the CICL. 

 

I'm sure there's truth to both stories. I'm almost certain an area scout would have some track on Puckett before he hits a summer league. It's possible the real interest for the Twins didn't hit until after Rantz got a firsthand look at him. Still, the story is often retold like a finding Steve Nebraska moment. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend, I guess.

 

Interesting story on Brown, by the way: When he was scouting for the Twins, he was hot on an area prospect named Jim Thome. Brown tried to tell the Twins higher ups that this kid will hit. The Twins, however, told people they didn't think he could stick at shortstop and passed on him.

 

"There’s eight other positions on the field, you know,” Brown said

 

Could you even imagine what the 1990s would have been like if the Twins were able to replace Kent Hrbek with Jim Thome (instead of David Farkin' McCarthy)?!

 

 

 

    • Seth Stohs, snepp, SD Buhr and 2 others like this

I had a chance to meet Kirby once in my life when I was a kid. My friend and I were playing basketball at the Edina Community Center and Kirby was there with his son doing the same. When my friend and I went over to ask him for an autograph, he smiled, asked his son to wait, signed the autographs and wished us the best.

 

This story doesn't mean to excuse the information that came out against him but I appreciated his willingness to take the time to sign an autograph for some star-eyed kids and I wish I had been able to see him play in his prime.

    • sploorp likes this
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theBOMisthebomb
Jan 12 2018 02:32 PM
The greatest Twin ever. Without him, this franchise would probably have no titles and would be a laughingstock. Kirby meant so much to the Twins, Minnesota sports fans, Minneapolis, and the entire state of Minnesota. Then the fall from grace. So is life.
    • Nine of twelve likes this
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twinssporto
Jan 12 2018 04:06 PM

Great story, thanks for sharing.  Kirby is still one of my all-time favorite Twins.  I remember driving home from baseball practice as a kid listening to Kirby's first game on WCCO.  My coach at the time said this guy is gonna be good.  

 

Seth - I was at Cooperstown for Kirby's induction as well.  Remember it like it was yesterday. My sister worked for the Marlins (still does) and got me tickets to the event. The Marlins were playing the Reds for the Hall of Fame game that year so she got to come along too.  Ended up having coffee with Pete Rose the following day...Interesting story.  No sense deflowering the nice Kirby story with that story...Will save for another time.

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terrydactyls1947
Jan 12 2018 05:01 PM
I had moved to Virginia a couple years before Puckett came to the Twins. I heard all these stories about a speedy center fielder that could hit, steal bases, and play great defense. When I finally got to see a Twins game on TV (and they were rare back then), I was very surprised to see this short, chunky guy in center field. I figured the Twins must be resting Puckett. But I watched the game anyway and discovered that the short, chunky guy was damn good - just not the physique I expected. And since I am also a short, chunky guy, Kirby Puckett instantly became my new Twins favorite (for the same reasons Harmon Killebrew had been previously).
    • sploorp likes this

I moved to Los Angeles in 1984, but the Twins always remained my favorite team and Kirby has always been my favorite player.I would see him play whenever I could.Either against the Angels or at the dome when I would go back for visits.Maybe it's just the fan in me or the fact that living in Los Angeles sheltered me from most of his down slide, but I can't help but wonder how much of his problems were out of bitterness of a career cut so short.Would being able to leave baseball on his own terms when he was ready to call it quits have changed things?Some might criticize me for saying it, but I happen to think so.

Kirby Puckett ... Hm ... haven't heard of him. I'll have to check him out.

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theBOMisthebomb
Jan 15 2018 10:18 AM

Kirby Puckett ... Hm ... haven't heard of him. I'll have to check him out.

Not surprising you haven't heard of him since you cannot buy his jersey at Target Field.
    • Doomtints likes this
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Nine of twelve
Jan 15 2018 10:21 AM

I've been visiting this site for several years but just recently decided to start posting under this user name.

Kirby is and will probably always be my favorite baseball player. Like most of us, I do not condone some of the things he did off the field, especially after he left the game, but I also will say that few of us would be able to gracefully handle what he went through. It's such a shame that things happened the way they did. All it would have taken for his life to have turned out differently is a routine eye exam sometime in January of 1996. His glaucoma would have been diagnosed and treated and he would not have suffered the sudden loss of vision in his right eye.

 


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