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  • Looking Back: Twins Draft Kirby Puckett

    31 years ago today, January 12, 1981, the Minnesota Twins made a decision that altered the history of the organization. On that date, the Twins used the third overall pick in the January portion of the MLB Draft.

    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, was not born while he was still playing. That means that no one under the age of around 23 or 24 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 didn't receive any 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 got to see Kirby Puckett play. He was so impressed that he recommended the Twins continue to send scouts to watch him.

    Then 31 years ago today, they used the third overall pick to to select the outfielder.



    As a 22-year-old, he 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 sidenote here. Puckett was putting up monstrous numbers in A-Ball, but he was already 23 years old, so I imagine had prospect rankings ben 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 his .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 short 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.

    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. If I'm being honest, I had to leave work,

    31 years ago today, the Twins drafted Kirby Puckett. He became the Minnesota Twins to so many. I wish I could have met him.
    This article was originally published in blog: Twins Draft Kirby Puckett started by Seth Stohs
    Comments 17 Comments
    1. lee_the_twins_fan's Avatar
      lee_the_twins_fan -
      It was March 6, 2006 when Kirby died. I'll never forget it – it was on my fiftieth birthday.
      He was a great player and a great human being – despite what came out after he retired. Who will ever forget Kirby's walk-off home run in game six of the World Series?

      He was a franchise player and great addition to the Twins.
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      When he reached 2000 hits he was the fastest ever to reach that milestone. Not sure if that has been eclipsed by someone since then but in my book of players I've watched in my lifetime Kirby is still top 5. There's not too many guys that could deliver championships to MN as we all painfully understand. Obviously he didn't do it alone but they couldn't have done it without him. RIP Kirby.
    1. Twins Twerp's Avatar
      Twins Twerp -
      Reading this article just makes me want to go punch Reggie Jackson in the face. How could he think that Kirby wasn't a hall of famer? Mr. October is a complete ****ing idiot. Kirby was a better player than Reggie ever could have been. Kirby never took plays off. He was unselfish as a baseball player (homelife not so much) as Reggie was a selfish, homerun or strikeout kind of douch we need to rid ourselves of in the baseball world.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Weird coincidence. I was in the same spot on the highway when I heard that Kirby was retiring and that he had died..........

      And, to be fair to the Twins circa 1984, the player they wanted to be their centerfielder, Jim Eisenreich was injured (essentially). Jim just could not stay in the lineup but he could have been a tremendous lead off hitter.
    1. Valediction's Avatar
      Valediction -
      Quote Originally Posted by Twins Twerp View Post
      Reading this article just makes me want to go punch Reggie Jackson in the face. How could he think that Kirby wasn't a hall of famer? Mr. October is a complete ****ing idiot. Kirby was a better player than Reggie ever could have been. Kirby never took plays off. He was unselfish as a baseball player (homelife not so much) as Reggie was a selfish, homerun or strikeout kind of douch we need to rid ourselves of in the baseball world.

      He could think that because he looked at the numbers. Look at the numbers straight up and tell me how they are Hall worthy?

      His closest comparable players are:
      Don Mattingly, on year 13 and not close to getting elected,
      Cecil Cooper, who never got one vote,
      Magglio Ordonez He doesn't seem like a HOF'er to me
      Carl Furillo, never came close
      Kiki Cuyler-made the Hall as a Vet Committee selection
      Cesar Cedeno, Tony Oliva, Minnie Minoso, Cy Williams and Felipe Alou: none of them in the Hall

      if you compare by age, most of his career is comparable to Mike Greenwell and Al Oliver,

      He got in because of sympathy for the way his career ended, not by traditional stats and measures. Would he have gotten in if he had finished his career normally? We'll never know. It's impossible to know if he would have kept producing at a level high enough to get to 3,000 or if he would have declined like many others. He was 35 years old in 1995, there could have been a few decent years left that cemented his legacy, or skills can diminish rapidly and he may have still been on the ballot like Mattingly and Murphy.
    1. Westgaard66's Avatar
      Westgaard66 -
      I honestly don't remember and of the "bad stuff" that came out in '02.....


      What I do remember is his enthusiasm, passion and love for the game....along with his heroics of '87 & '91.

      If I ever bought a Twins jersey, it would have 34 on the back....
    1. Knotholemike's Avatar
      Knotholemike -
      [QUOTE=douch[/QUOTE]

      I believe there is an "e" on the end of "douch." Let's make sure Reggie gets all the respect he deserves.
    1. darin617's Avatar
      darin617 -
      So who were the players that were picked ahead of Kirby in the draft?
      I tried to find out and have been unsuccessful so far.
      I need the knowledge of Seth to answer this for me.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by darin617 View Post
      So who were the players that were picked ahead of Kirby in the draft?I tried to find out and have been unsuccessful so far.I need the knowledge of Seth to answer this for me.
      Kash Beauchamp and Troy Afenir. Only 3 other guys from that 1st round played in the MLB and they combined for 120 games played. Shows what a long shot Puckett really was. Reference
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Just for fun, here is a list of players drafted from the same college as Puckett. Triton College

      Only 4 made the Bigs and 3 played for the Twins.
    1. Neil's Avatar
      Neil -
      This was a very nice read, Seth, Thank you.

      I wish I could have met him too.
    1. TopGunn#22's Avatar
      TopGunn#22 -
      Val...just a couple rebuttal points: Oliver and Greenwell never won a Gold Glove. Oliver and Greenwell couldn't steal bases. Oliver won a World Series, but in 1971 the Pirates were Clemente & Stargell. (Oliver hit .282). Puckett was the BEST player on 2 World Champion teams. Furillo, while a very good player, wasn't Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, or Gil Hodges and they only won one (1) World Series (1955). I would like to see Tony-O in, but he never won a World Series. Sympathy may have made Puckett a first ballot HOF'er but it didn't make him a HOF'er.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      The January draft was a very limited draft. Most of the "talent" was selected in the June-Regular phase of the draft. The Twins selected Bryan Oelkers 4th overall in the June-Regular, one spot ahead of the Mets who selected someone named Dwight Gooden.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Back when I lived in Minnesota I usually got to only 2 or 3 games a season, at most. By the strangest chance, I happened to attend Kirby's final game. And I was guest of someone with really good seats, probably the best seats I ever sat in at a major league game, a few rows up from the third-base dugout. I will never forget the grin Knoblauch flashed his own bench after leading off the game with a HBP. A story came out later that he had a side bet with one of his teammates that he could lean into a pitch and get the free base. Dennis Martinez didn't bother to brush back the second batter, Matt Lawton. But then against Puckett, a pitch got away from him; that was the story, stuck to by both teams, by all parties. I will always hold a different opinion, that some seriously-inside baseball was going on there, with unintended but disastrous results.
    1. luke829's Avatar
      luke829 -
      Very sad (and scary) how a promising career such as his was derailed due to a case of glaucoma.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Valediction View Post
      He could think that because he looked at the numbers. Look at the numbers straight up and tell me how they are Hall worthy?

      His closest comparable players are:
      Don Mattingly, on year 13 and not close to getting elected,
      Cecil Cooper, who never got one vote,
      Magglio Ordonez He doesn't seem like a HOF'er to me
      Carl Furillo, never came close
      Kiki Cuyler-made the Hall as a Vet Committee selection
      Cesar Cedeno, Tony Oliva, Minnie Minoso, Cy Williams and Felipe Alou: none of them in the Hall

      if you compare by age, most of his career is comparable to Mike Greenwell and Al Oliver,

      He got in because of sympathy for the way his career ended, not by traditional stats and measures. Would he have gotten in if he had finished his career normally? We'll never know. It's impossible to know if he would have kept producing at a level high enough to get to 3,000 or if he would have declined like many others. He was 35 years old in 1995, there could have been a few decent years left that cemented his legacy, or skills can diminish rapidly and he may have still been on the ballot like Mattingly and Murphy.
      How many of those guys were CFs? How many batted .318 lifetime? How many of them had a batting title, 6 GG, 6 SS, 10 straight AS games? How many had all of that?

      So he hits .318 lifetime, had a 124 OPS+, was the fastest to 2K hits, and played gold glove CF. Dude was a HOFer
    1. Beau's Avatar
      Beau -
      I did meet Puckett at an autograph decision and shook his hand. I was thirteen years old. It was shortly after realignment. I joked with him, asking if he was glad the Indians were now in his division. He laughed and said the Indians had some good young players and they'd be hard to beat.
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