Now that I’ve grown up and started learning more and more about advanced statistics, I’m really struggling with where he ranks among the greats all time. He had some power, but that wasn’t really his game. He stole a few bases, played great defense for a few years, and pounded out a ton of singles and doubles, but none of his stats really scream “all-time great”. His career OPS was .837, which is probably hall of fame worthy but isn’t eye-popping. Among position players all-time that places him between Jayson Werth and Hugh Duffy. According to baseball reference, his WAR was 50.8. Of course his career was cut short, so if you figure another 4 WAR per year for 5 years that would bring him up to 70, which would put him between Scott Rolen and Gary Carter.
But, that all ignores Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. I still get chills whenever I think of that game; his dominance was incredible. It wasn't just his catch in the 3rd inning and his walk-off homerun in the 11th - he also hit a triple in the 1st, a sac fly in the 5th, and stole 2nd base in the 8th putting him in position to score the go-ahead run if Shane Mack got a hit. He had 3 of the Twins 4 RBI, scored 2 of the 4 runs, and had 8 total bases compared to 7 for the rest of the team. It was all-out dominance. But not only did he dominate – he knew that he would. Check out this quote from this Tim Kurkjian writeup several years ago…
["I went to the clubhouse, and I gathered [everyone] up. I said, 'Everybody together, we're going to have a short meeting,'" Puckett said, retelling the story years later. "Everybody comes in, and I said, 'Guys, I just have one announcement to make: You guys should jump on my back tonight. I'm going to carry us.'"
Then he did.
"We were in a bad way; we needed someone to step forward in a major way," Twins teammate Gene Larkin said. "He told us to jump on his back. Not many guys can talk the talk and walk the walk, but Kirby always could. After he spoke to us, we just knew that Kirby was going to do something special. We've seen him do that many times. That time it was on the biggest stage
So, how does a game like that influence a player’s all-time greatness? It seems like the true greats in sports have games like that, rising to the occasion and dominating on the biggest possible stage. I can’t think of other specific examples off the top of my head, but I know Jordan and Kobe both did it a few times, and I’m sure there are examples for guys like Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, etc. Was this game evidence of just how awesome Puckett was, or did he just get lucky? How much does this performance move him up the all-time greatness ladder?