Blonde moment

And the silver spoon.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Thanks for the Memories

It was January 2001, a Monday. I was sitting in Dr. Banaian’s Senior Seminar class, and we were all experiencing the razzing of our lives from Dr. Banaian. The Giants had just handed it to the Vikings and ruined our chances at a fifth Super Bowl appearance. On Wednesday, Dr. Banaian was hoping for a repeat performance of his monologue on how great the Giants were. It was not to be for Kirby Puckett had just been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame! I explained that the Vikings loss did not matter so much because of Kirby Puckett and that all was right in the world for Minnesota. (Now if only Burt will get his turn…) Dr. Banaian said, “You all realize that Kirby Puckett is not the best player in baseball?” We did, but…

And that “but” comes from fans of a small market team with a small payroll. Sure, there are better players. Sure, there are probably people more worthy of such an honor. Not in the eyes of Minnesota baseball fans, and at the time, not in the eyes of the sports writers. It wasn’t just the career, it was the attitude. It was the memories. It was our first World Series in 1987. It was the improbable season of 1991. Yeah, it was great to see Boston have the eight game winning streak in post season play. Yeah, it was great to see the White Sox win. But, in 1991, there was THE home run and THE catch. It was more exciting. It was before this steroid controversy, before the strike. It was before I realized that sports heroes could be lousy people just like the rest of society.

OK, so maybe Kirby Puckett wasn’t the greatest the game ever saw. But the memories are.

"Touch them all Kirby Puckett." Thanks for the memories. 1960 - 2006.

And by the way, Dr. Banaian does have a very nice eulogy here. He does properly appreciate the game, after all.

PS to Dr. Banaian, WHATEVER! OK, so he may not be THE best of his era (I will concede that perhaps Nolan Ryan was better) but:

"• There were the four straight 200-hit seasons. Just three men since the 1930s have managed that trick -- Wade Boggs (7), Ichiro Suzuki (5) and Puckett.
• There were those 2,040 hits in his first 10 years in the big leagues. How many other players since 1900 have cranked out that many? That would be none, of course.
• There was that .318 career batting average. Among men who went to the plate as many times as Puckett, that's the highest lifetime average by any right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio.
• There were those 2,304 career hits, more than any other player (in a pretty fair hitter's era) in the 12 seasons Puckett was around. Only Boggs and some guy named Tony Gwynn were within even 200 of him.
• And there were the 1,028 hits in his first five seasons. The only two players in history with more were Ichiro (1,130) and Paul Waner (1,057).
There's no telling, of course, where those numbers were headed if this man had just been able to see out of both eyes for the rest of his life. But Puckett would never want us to reflect on that, just as he never let us feel sorry that a disease as merciless as glaucoma had ever descended on him.
Then there were the awards, the honors, the accolades.
• This guy made 10 All-Star teams in a row.
• He was an LCS MVP, an All-Star Game MVP and easily could have been a World Series MVP.
• And think about this: He finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting seven times in 12 seasons. In other words, he made the top 10 in more years than he didn't make it. (See ESPN .)

Unfortunately for me, Josh agrees with Dr. Banaian. Yeah, we'll just see who has a wife willing to buy a trip to Cooperstown when Mark gets in!