I read with sadness about the death of Kirby Puckett, the charismatic former star of the Minnesota Twins baseball team. Dead after suffering a stroke Sunday, he was only 45. Hard working, charming, exhilarating, dedicated, Puckett was one of my favorite players during his too-brief, but highly successful, major league career. Like so many others, I loved him as much for his winning smile and casual charm as for his baseball heroics–which is what made what happened after his retirement so painful for us, his fans.
After breaking into the majors in 1984 and leading Minnesota to World Series championships in 1987 and 1991, Puckett lost sight in one eye and retired in 1996. He was then voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, in 2001–but later that same year, his trouble started, or rather, became public. His then-wife accused him of threatening to kill her and told police he had a history of physically abusing her. He denied the charges, but then was hit with another accusation, this time from a woman who accused him of sexually assaulting her. He was acquitted of all criminal charges but largely stayed out of the public eye after that.
Though the two stories are entirely unconnected, I can’t help but connect my feelings at Puckett’s death with the bombshell Sports Illustrated dropped today about home-run king Barry Bonds, rumored for years to be a steroids user. SI.com writes about an excerpt from a new book by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who describe in excruciating detail Bonds’s steroids regimen. Based on records seized by federal agents in a raid on the lab that administered the steroids, the book seems to leave little doubt that Bonds’s storied career has been, indeed, too good to be true.
Lamenting the immoral behavior of athletes is a cliche by now–so trite, so last century. Yet I, forever an optimist, kept hoping the rumors about Bonds weren’t true, that somehow he’d clear his name and erase any doubts about the legitimacy of his record 73 homers in one season in 2001. And today, I can’t help feeling sad not just at Puckett’s death–whatever his misbehavior was, he didn’t deserve the lot life dealt him–but also at the fact that another champion failed miserably to live up to his public personae. I miss Puckett, but I’ve been missing him for five years now, ever since the Kirby Puckett I thought I knew was proven to be an illusion.