50 years ago, Kirby Puckett began Hall of Fame journey

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

It should have been a milestone birthday, with friends and family gathered around Kirby Puckett to celebrate the big 5-0.

Instead, it is a reminder of what the baseball world lost with the premature death of the ebullient Puckett – and a chance to remember a player whose spirit will never die.

03-15-10-Muder_Puckett.jpgSunday marked the 50th anniversary of Puckett’s birth. The 2001 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee died in 2006 of complications from a stroke.

In between, Puckett lit up the baseball landscape with his smile, enthusiasm and all-around play in center field for the Minnesota Twins.

“He deserved the best,” said former Twins star Tony Oliva. “I know he was the best.”

Puckett was the third pick overall in the 1982 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft and became the Twins’ starting center fielder in 1984. Two years later, after four home runs in his first 1,248 big league at-bats, Puckett hit 31 home runs and drove in 96 runs while hitting .328. He won his first of six Gold Gloves that year for his defensive play.

“I was nervous when I got to the big leagues, but I was never afraid,” Puckett said. “Like every ballplayer and every human being, I failed lots of times throughout my career. But I understood how to overcome and recognize the true power of learning from failure.”

In all, Puckett played 12 major league seasons before glaucoma in his right eye forced his retirement at age 35. He led the American League in hits four times, was named to 10 All-Star teams and helped the Twins win World Series titles in 1987 and 1991.

In 2001 in his first year eligible, he was elected to the Hall of Fame after receiving 82.1 percent of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote.

Craig Muder is director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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