Jim Caple, who covered the Twins for many years in the 80s and 90s, was asked to hold a chat on ESPN. In it, some ugly questions came up:
bryan (wisconsin): are you guys going to glorify o.j. on his death bed as well?
Jim Caple: Look, what the hell is your problem? I've already written several times about how difficult it is to reconcile the public good with the private bad and how he was found not guilty of the charges. What more do you want? If you' don't like what we're writing why don't you do something else with your time?
Greg, Raleigh: great ballplayer, not a great person (outside of Minnesota)...what did he do for the people in the Taylor Home in Chicago?
Jim Caple: Well, there's another knock on him. He didn't end poverty in Chicago. What a bastard, huh?
Needless to say, I'm glad Caple was able to give the responses I would give. I try to not hate Wisconsoners that much, but what a nasty question. But it summarizes a lot of the treatment people give Kirby's last few years. It really is as if he killed his wife. However, I think Buster Olney treats his fate best:
"Kirby Puckett played well enough to join the greatest major-leaguers in the Hall of Fame, but sadly, he seemed to follow the same path as one Hall of Famer, in particular.
Mickey Mantle was convinced he was destined to die at an early age, as his father had, so he lived his life without concern for his health, his fate becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. And in the same way, Puckett seemed convinced, because of his family history, that he was not long for this world, and his friends will always wonder -- as Mantle's friends have -- whether that contributed to his own premature death."
I think Mantle is a great comparison, if only because he went through similar things at the end of his life. Mantle was beloved when he was a player for the Yankees in the 50s and 60s, but a lot of his personal issues went unnoticed. When he had to retire (as Mantle had an unbelievable amount of injuries and the fact he did what he did is amazing), Mantle seemed to get depressed the way Puckett did. But he was a gracious hero as well. No one can forget his press conference when he got cancer. You couldn't help but get a tear. And anyone who felt the need to speak out against Mantle picked an awful time.
The last comment I felt was perfect came from Peter Gammons, who is in the Hall of Fame as a reporter. Gammons blogged today that, "He never had a bad day. When Puck came through that clubhouse door, his energy and spirit made everyone better. This is not going to be a sabermetric examination of the man's career; this is just a postcard about a man who made everyone around him better, a man who lived for the stage and the moments, a man who always played hard and forced his teammates to play the right way." That, to me, beyond any of the other issues, is the perfect way to remember Puckett. And though I'm very saddened by this loss, I am glad to see just how much Puckett's love has been reverberated throughout baseball.