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.