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Minnesota Sends Two to Hall of Fame
By William Wilcoxen
January 17, 2001
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Kirby Puckett and Dave Winfield have been elected to baseball's Hall of Fame, in their first year of eligibility. Winfield is a St. Paul native whose 22-year major league career included a couple of seasons with the Minnesota Twins. The biggest celebration is for Puckett, who during his 12 years in Minnesota became one of the Twins' best and most popular players.

Kirby Puckett led the Twins to two World Series championships, in 1987 and 1991.

MPR sports commentator Jay Weiner was there when Puckett began his career with the Twins, and he says Puckett's election to the hall reminds us of happier times.
(Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Twins)
KIRBY PUCKETT SAYS HE WAS ONLY FIVE YEARS OLD when he started wandering out to the playgrounds of Chicago's south side to play ball with some of his eight older siblings. By the time he finished high school, he was the best player around. But Puckett says it's not surprising that no professional scouts were on hand to offer him a contract.

"I don't blame anybody for that because I played at Calumet High School. It's all black and it's right in the heart of the ghetto in Chicago. I can't blame scouts for not coming to watch us play. If they'd have come in, they wouldn't have got out. That's the honest to God truth," says Puckett.

So Puckett took a job at an automobile factory. But his play in an amateur summer league was noticed and led to a scholarship offer. He starred at Triton Junior College, was drafted by the Twins and broke into the big leagues at the start of the 1984 season. Just two years earlier, the Twins had endured what remains their worst season ever. But things were starting to look up and in Puckett's third season, the Twins brought Minnesota its first World Series championship. Puckett says he feels fortunate to have started his career with that group of players.

"When I came in '84 I had the likes of Kent Hrbek, Tim Laudner, Tom Brunansky, Frank Viola, Gary Gaetti. We had here what you call a bunch of gamers. They were tired of being beat. And I was just a little piece of the puzzle. And I knew in 1984 that my job was just to get on base and set the table for the big guys," says Puckett.

After a couple of seasons, Twins batting coach Tony Oliva helped Puckett modify his batting stance. That led him to hit more home runs and prompted the team to move him in the batting order from first to third, where for years he hit in front of former first baseman Kent Hrbek.

"I remember him as being a great player, a great hitter. I stood behind him on the on-deck circle and walked up to the plate and the catcher would go, 'How the hell did he hit that one?' I remember walking in the clubhouse and seeing him smile and laugh. It'd make you want to be there at the ballpark," Hrbek says.

  • His loss of vision
  • Fan reaction to the Hall of Fame vote
  • His first game
  • The '87 World Champion Twins
  • Fellow Hall-of-Famer Dave Winfield
    (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Twins)

    Puckett has won several awards for his community service. Twins President Jerry Bell says his influence on those around him is part of what distinguishes Puckett among great ballplayers.

    "A lot of players are good on the field, but he extended that to his whole team - setting examples with how to play baseball, and how to conduct yourself with fans and kids and the press and everyone else," Bell says.

    After 12 seasons, Puckett's playing career was ended when he developed glaucoma that blocked the vision in his right eye. There was some question about whether his career would be deemed long enough for Hall of Fame voters to elect him on his first ballot. But Puckett was named on 82 percent of the votes cast. Puckett says he feels no anger about the eye disease that shortened his career.

    "People want to talk about me having to end my career after 12 years. And all I ever said was, I just thank God He let me play that long," Puckett says.

    Puckett will be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame at ceremonies in Cooperstown, New York, in August.

    William Wilcoxen covers sports for Minnesota Public Radio. Reach him via e-mail at