In case you’ve been on another planet this week, two things rocked the Baseball world. Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett died of a massive stroke at age 45. He was younger than Julio Franco, who is still playing in the major leagues, and Puckett is only the second youngest Hall of Famer to die. Lou Gehrig died of ALS at age 37.
The other news is the publication of a book detailing Barry Bonds’ use of performance-enhancing substances such as steroids since 1998.Both men had a dark side. According to the book, Bonds’ jealousy of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa caused him to start using steroids and a bizarre mix of other substances to bulk up. It’s clear to anyone who remembers the skinny kid in the Pittsburgh Pirates uniform from 1988 that Bonds has been doing something to transform himself. Bonds said it was Flaxseed Oil. Guess what? I take Flaxseed Oil. I take a lot of it. I’m 5’9" and on a good day I weigh 145 pounds. Barry Bonds used to be built like me. Now he’s built like a professional wrestler, and he got that way practically overnight. I don’t think it was the Flaxseed Oil…
Puckett had something else going on beneath his always-smiling exterior. Kirby Puckett was the kind of guy who would go out of his way to help anyone, and the kind of guy who could keep a positive attitude throughout absolutely anything. If Kirby Puckett said the team was going to win, everyone believed it, and Kirby Puckett always found some way to win. But the home life wasn’t as good. Puckett’s first wife divorced him because of domestic abuse.
But it should be noted that even after the divorce, the abuse, and the other things that came out afterward, Puckett’s ex-wife thought highly of him. It takes a lot of good to cover domestic abuse. But Puckett had it.
Puckett was born and grew up in the projects in Chicago and dreamed of one day being the next Ernie Banks. Well, he played a different position (Banks was a shortstop, Puckett played mostly center field) and he didn’t play for the Cubs, but other than that, he did a pretty good job of emulating his hero’s attitude and his statistics. I haven’t seen a public statement yet, but I suspect Ernie Banks has told more than one person he was flattered to be Kirby Puckett’s hero.
It all ended tragically. Puckett’s career, that is. In 1996, Puckett woke up one morning and couldn’t see out of one eye. Glaucoma. Without depth perception, you can’t play baseball, so Puckett just walked away. Well, that and he told us not to feel sorry for him. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001. His career was very short, but so spectacular that he made it on his first ballot.
In his later years, Puckett secluded himself, and his friends started worrying about him. One account said Puckett nearly weighed 400 pounds at one point. I’m not sure if that was a typo. But Puckett was trying to straighten himself out. He’d started training again, trying to get his weight down, and was engaged to be married. He hoped to start coaching baseball, maybe as soon as next year.
It’s sad. We’ll miss Kirby Puckett. And we can’t wait for Barry Bonds to just go away.