Monday, March 06, 2006

Kirby Puckett
By John W. Schmeelk

Kirby Puckett passed away today at the age of 45 from the effects of a stroke he suffered on Sunday. Considering the youth of the bloggers on this page, it is still very strange to see an athlete we grew up watching pass away. Puckett was one of them. Sportszilla and the Jabber Jocks mourn the loss of a Hall of Fame baseball player.

Whether or not Kirby Puckett was a good man is something that is under some measure of debate.
During his playing career he was considered the best of men, on and off the field. It was after his retirement that evidence surfaced that he may have lead a double life as a womanizer and a bit of a jerk. He was acquitted of the criminal charges against him but the Sports Illustrated article by Frank Deford showed a pattern of that behavior.

Which was the true Kirby Puckett? Probably a little bit of both.

He has a great legacy as a player on the field, but off the field it is one cast in shadows; a revered man brought down from the mountaintop and into the muck of controversy. A shining memory tarnished, and it will be a memory much discussed and considered over the next few days. Even tonight on WFAN, after only about an hour of taking calls, many have expressed outrage Steve Somers would even bring up the news of Puckett's infidelity and other actions off the field. As a journalist isn't it fair to consider a player in an even light? Simply because a man died, is it fair to the people he may have hurt to sweep away the bad things he may have done during his life?

Yes, Puckett was acquitted, and in the eyes of the law he did not commit those crimes against the accuser. But he still had an illicit affair with her. Read Frank Deford's SI article. Google it. Combine that with the fact the Twins settled a sexual harrassment suit by a female employee aimed at Puckett's lewd behavior. Is it fair to say where there is smoke, there is fire?

His fans, especially those in Minnessotta want to remember him as the spotless hero of their childhood, the man who did little wrong on the field, and even less off. They want to beleive the stories that he was nicer to the clubhouse guys and the fans than anyone else, and accept that as the only truth. It is understandable, a childhood hero is held dear, and his memory protected like a precious treasure. They want to remember him the way they want to, accepting only the truths that support their image of Kirby Puckett.

But all that can be true, he might have been nicer to everyone than the other players. But that does not make the other things he reportedly did false. They can be ignored, and that is every fan's right. I've done that with Larry Johnson's infidelity. He was one of my favorite Knicks of all time, but he could have fielded a football team with all his children out of wedlock. Pat Ewing had his scandal at the Gold Club and an affair with a Knicks City Dancer. But they were my guys, so I made their play ON the court the focus of my fanhood, not what they did off the field. It was my right as a fan.

But not my right as a member of the media. Puckett's portrait should be painted with both halo, and pitchfork. Show his greatness, and show his virtues but also show his vices and his downfall. He was a hero to most, but was a man like all of us, and had his faults. Unfortunately for him, they were publicized more than those of his fellow athletes.

So, for all of those that love Kirby Puckett, remember him that way, and cherish that memory. But for those of you that it is your solemn duty to tell the truth, be fair, and give both sides of Kirby Puckett. The good, the bad and the ugly.


Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

Excellent work John. Couple of thoughts:

1) Puckett is probably the first real star baseball player who I really remember playing to die. Reggie White was a great, but I don't remember his career the same way...probably the guy who comes closest is Derrick Thomas, and that's because he always used to destroy the Seahawks.

2) I completely agree that it's important to make it clear to people that as great of a player (and maybe teammate) as Kirby was, he was no saint. That label isn't fair to him...he was just a man who happened to be great at baseball...and plenty of men who weren't have had extra-marital affairs, or maybe lewd comments towards women.

12:18 AM  

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