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Puckett was born in Chicago, IL where he spent his childhood. He attended Bradley University before being drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1982.
Puckett spent 2 seasons in the Twins minor league system, including his rookie year playing for the Elizabethtown Twins where he batted .382 and was a standout outfielder. Puckett was promoted to the major leagues on May 8, 1984. Called up to replace center fielder Jim Eisenreich, who had a condition that eventually was revealed to be Tourette syndrome, Puckett quickly proved himself. On May 8, he became only the 9th player in history to record 4 hits in the first full game of a career, by going 4 for 5 against the California Angels. He was one of the league's best rookies in 1984, batting .296 and leading all American League center fielders in outfield assists, with 16. He had a similar season in 1985, when he played in every game and batted .288. Coincidentally, in 1985, the song "Centerfield" by John Fogerty was released as a single. The single created an immediate association in Minnesota with the electric performance and humble personality of the team's rapidly rising center fielder.
His third season was a huge breakout year for him. After spending the previous off season with Tony Oliva, he raised his stats to include 31 Home Runs, and batted a .328 average. This was also the year that Puckett received his first Gold Glove.
In 1987, Puckett lead the Twins to their first World Series in Minnesota (the franchise had won a few World Series before moving to Minnesota). He batted .332 with 28 home runs and 99 RBI that year. His performance was even more impressive in the seven-game upset over the St. Louis Cardinals, batting a whopping .357.
During the year, Puckett had his best performance on August 30 in Milwaukee when he went 6-for-6 with two home runs, one off of Juan Nieves in the third and the other off of closer Dan Plesac in the ninth. He also denied Robin Yount of a grand slam.
He won the AL batting title in 1989 with a mark of .339, making him the first right-handed batter to win the title in eight years. In April 1989, he had his 1,000th hit, the first and only player in the 20th century to do so in his first five seasons. He continued to play well in 1990, but the Twins slipped to last place in their division.
In 1991, the Twins took the division back from the A's after the all star break. The Twins made it to what is considered to be one of the most exciting ones ever. Both the Twins and the Atlanta Braves had finished last in their respective divisions in the year before winning their league pennant, something that had never been done before. Going into Game 6, the Twins trailed three games to two and had to win to stay alive. Puckett gave the Twins an early lead by scoring Chuck Knoblauch with a triple, and helped to hold off an Atlanta rally in the third inning with a leaping catch off the outfield wall that stole a sure double by Ron Gant. The game went into extra inning, where Puckett won it in the bottom of the 11th with his famous home run. The images of Puckett rounding the bases, arms raised in triumph, are always included in video highlights of Puckett's career, often accompanied by CBS Sports commentator Jack Buck's famous words, "And we'll see you tomorrow night!" In the years to come, and especially after Puckett's death, Game 6 came to symbolize his entire career as an excellent ballplayer who always came through for the Twins when they needed it the most. The next night, Puckett's Twins won 1-0 in 10 innings for their second World Series title.
Although Kirby continued to succeed, the twins began to slip. In 1994, Puckett, now playing in right field, won his first league RBI title by driving in 112 runs in just 108 games, and he was having another brilliant season in 1995 before having his jaw broken by a Dennis Martínez fastball on September 28. There are some who believe that this is the source of his glaucoma, but there is no backing to this claim.
On March 28, 1996, after having a great spring training where he had a .360 average, he woke up without vision in his right eye. He was diagnosed with glaucoma, and several surgeries over the next few months could not restore vision in the eye; Puckett never played professional baseball again. On July 12, Puckett announced his retirement from baseball at age 35. His lifetime batting average of .318 was the highest of any right-handed batter since Joe DiMaggio retired in 1951.
Puckett became the subject of controversy in the years before his death. He was arrested and charged with groping a woman in a bar restroom in Eden Prairie, Minnesota on September 5, 2002. He was tried and acquitted.
In the March 17, 2003, edition of Sports Illustrated, columnist Frank Deford penned a piece entitled The Rise and Fall of Kirby Puckett, that discussed Puckett's many indiscretions and contrasted his private image with the much-revered public image he maintained prior to his arrest. A companion of Puckett commented once that when Puckett couldn't play baseball anymore, "he started to become full of himself and very abusive." His weight ballooned to over 300 pound and he was alleged to have begun to perform lewd acts in public, such as urinating in the parking lot of a shopping center, in plain view of other people. Puckett moved to Scottsdale, Arizona in the winter of 2003, perhaps due to controversy in Minnesota.
On the morning of March 5, 2006, Kirby Puckett suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. He underwent emergency surgery that day to relieve pressure on his brain; the surgery failed, and his former teammates and coaches were notified the following morning. Many, including 1991 teammates Shane Mack and Kent Hrbek, flew to Phoenix to be at his bedside during his final hours along with Kirby's ex-wife Tonya Puckett and two kids Kirby Jr. and Catherine.
Puckett's death sent the entire state of Minnesota into sorrow. News anchors had trouble holding back tears, and the ESPN Radio affiliate, KFAN, had over a day of straight memories about Kirby. There were big, burly, grown men calling in and sobbing while on the radio. The local paper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, had several pages of their sports section dedicated to the memory of Kirby Puckett.
A private memorial service was held in Twin Cities suburb of Wayzata on the afternoon of March 12 (declared "Kirby Puckett Day" in Minneapolis), followed by a public ceremony held at the Metrodome attended by family, friends, ballplayers past and present, and approximately 15,000 fans (an anticipated capacity crowd dwindled through the day due to an incoming blizzard that night). Speakers at the latter service included current Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Dave Winfield, and a multitude of former teammates and coaches.
How ever much people were upset by Kirby's death, it is still unclear how he will be remembered. Although most fans would prefer him to be remembered for his great career, there is the dark cloud that existed over him about his life after his career. Regardless of how he is remembered, it is clear that the moment that will define his career was game 6 of the 1991 world series, both of the two plays, the game saving catch and his walk off home run, will also be remembered as some of the greatest memories in Twins history.
The Twins honored Puckett in the 2006 season, with every player wearing a black 34 patch on one of their sleeves. They dedicated that season to Puckett, and placed a 34 at different places on the Metrodome field throughout the year, and playing a highlight video of Puckett's career to Louis Armstrong's song "What a wonderful world" in the seventh inning stretch of every home game.
- Selected by Minnesota Twins in the 1st round (3rd pick overall) of the free-agent draft (January 12, 1982).
- Granted free agency (October 28, 1992).
- Signed by Minnesota Twins (December 4, 1992).