Remembering a Chicago Hall of Famer: Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett's game-six home run helped propel the Minnesota Twins to a 1991 World Series title. (Photo by Ron Vesely)

The best World Series I’ve ever seen — before 2011, that is — happened back in 1991. The Twins beat the Braves in seven games, and every game went down to the wire. I think that any truly great World Series has to go seven games. It shows the teams were evenly matched and needed a final, winner-take-all contest in order to settle things.

In 1991, the series finale — like the series itself — was as close as it could be. The two teams played nine scoreless innings, and then the Twins pushed across a run in the 10th for the win. But it only happened like that because of the game-six heroics of the late Kirby Puckett. His home run in the bottom of the 11th tied the series and set the stage for the dramatic finish in game seven.

Puckett was born in the raised in a housing project not very far from the school I once taught at in Chicago. He was the focal point of the Twins teams that won two World Series titles, but he was beaned in the face near the end of the 1995 season and never played again.

Some people speculated that the 12 seasons he played weren’t enough longevity to merit Hall of Fame selection. But he was elected on the first ballot he was eligible, with 82% of the voters believing he had done enough to deserve the honor.

When Puckett died in 2006, at a very young age, I was saddened by the news. At the time, I was working on a content-creation program for a textbook publisher. Factual passages were always needed, so I sat down that day and began writing about baseball and the World Series and Puckett’s heroics in 1991.

The students who would one day come across that passage might have known little about baseball, and even less about Puckett. But I made sure that, even if they couldn’t tell a ball from a strike, or a ground ball from a pop fly, they knew that Puckett was the hero for the winning team on the biggest sporting stage that America has to offer. It was a small tribute to his achievements — to be sure — but one I felt very proud about being able to make.

Less than than a month after losing another Hall of Famer (1986 World Series hero Gary Carter), I wanted to take a moment, on what would have been Puckett’s 52nd birthday, to remember him and the things he accomplished. He would understandably be more of a hero in Minneapolis, but Chicago remembers him fondly, as well.

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