Tuesday, March 7

The Dichotomy of Kirby Puckett

So, if you missed it, Kirby Puckett recently passed on due to complications from a stroke. What did I think of him? Personally, I loved him as a ballplayer - great stroke, infectious energy. Heck, the fact that he stood in as a 5'8" guy gave me at least a possibility of hope that I could make it even if I was short. Of course, that didn't happen, but when you're 6 or 7, you have ideas like this. Probably the fact that I was big into Nintendo (and the Kirby character) didn't hurt my fandom of him, either. And yes, after he retired, he wasn't what you would term a model citizen, but I was fine with that. Why? Because I could remember his playing days and go, "You know, in this respect, at least, he was pretty good."

However, it's not my own perceptions that really intrigued me about Kirby's death - after all, I knew where I stood on the matter. More or less, everyone always knows where they stand on anything (for example, I don't like spinach. Whatever. It doesn't cause a ruckus). Where problems arise is when people have dissenting opinions and strong emotions associated with those opinions. Case in point here would be what we have right now.

On one hand, you have Ballplayer Kirby. Spark of the Twins - at the time, and probably even so today, the face of the Twins - the proverbial little engine that could. It's hard not to like that - it's like rooting for Microsoft or Wal-Mart. Sure, you can hope they pull it out and crush the little guy, but 99.9% of us ARE little guys - isn't that counterintuitive?

On the other hand, you have Private Life Kirby - the spotty kid. The guy who after he retired prematurely, hit the bottle and got arrested for sexual assault. Great guy, right? Total class act now, isn't he? And if you say that this doesn't happen at least thousands of times each year, I'll find some cases to show you. In that respect, Kirby was just a number. I don't mean to trivialize sexual assault, by the way - that's not what's intended here at all. Personally speaking, I think all sexual crimes are abhorrent.

So you have, on one hand, a special guy, a player that you might see once in a lifetime, twice if you're lucky. Talent plus charisma plus drive. It's a rare combination, and it's odd to find someone as unpolarizing a player as Puckett was back in the day. On the other hand, you have a guy that's one of many - a heavy drinker, possibly a guy with an overinflated opinion of himself. Hit up any college campus when you get a chance - there's certainly no shortage of these guys.

So which one was Kirby? Well, that's up to you, isn't it? I'm not going to sit here and tell you that he was a great guy or an absolute jerk; the only thing I'm going to say is that while in some respects he might've been well above anything any of us could hope to be, on the other hand he was just as human and prone to error as the rest of us. That's it.

For myself, though, this is the image I'll keep.