Kirby Puckett was a spectacular baseball player, a SuperBall with stubby legs who bounced off outfield walls. Standing just 5-foot-8, he could hit, catch and throw with the game’s best and lead his team on the field and in the clubhouse.
His infectious smile and ever-present laugh are what many of his teammates and fans will remember most about the man, who died Monday at age 45 after suffering a stroke Sunday at his Scottsdale home. Baseball fans admire Puckett, who played his entire career for the Minnesota Twins, for his never-ending effort on the field and his never-say-quit attitude.
In 1995, he was Major League Baseball’s Roberto Clemente Man of the Year for his charitable work. He was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility after leading the Twins to World Series titles in 1987 and 1991.
But as ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd said Tuesday, “A ballplayer is on the field for 3 1 /2 hours a day; it is what he does with the other 20 hours that makes him who he is.”
Kirby Puckett was mortal, human. He had flaws, just as we all do.
In a 2003 Sports Illustrated article, Puckett’s ex-wife detailed a laundry list of spousal abuse she suffered during their marriage; the article also revealed his infidelity with a longtime mistress and the threat of a sexual harassment claim against him and other Twins employees (the magazine reported that the team made a financial settlement with the female accuser).
The lesson here is not that Kirby Puckett was a flawed man. The lesson is that we all should be careful whom we put on pedestals. Athletes and celebrities ascend to lofty positions based on specific talents, whether hitting a baseball, playing guitar or telling funny jokes, that they display in public. Modern-day icons often are not considered as complete beings; unfortunately, the whole in many cases is less than the sum of its parts.
We should learn from the good, admire the exceptional and recognize the frailties that make all of us — famous or not — the complex beings that we are.
John Bach, an assistant coach for the NBA’s Chicago Bulls during the years that Michael Jordan was on the team, told The New York Times: “Idolatry is really not good for anyone. Not even the idols.”