Kirby Puckett: What Could Have Been…
Of all of the baseball stars to join the league in the mid 1980’s, I don’t know if anyone got more enjoyment out of playing a kid’s game than Puckett. He played the game with heart and determination which made it very enjoyable to watch him take the field.
Unfortunately, we only got to watch Kirby play for 12 seasons. First, due to Glaucoma, Kirby was forced to retire after the 1995 season as he lost vision in one of his eyes. And just a few years later, Puckett passed away due to complications brought on by a stroke. Puckett was the first player that I cheered for as a kid that passed away at an age when he could have still been a star in the game. Sadly, this is life and you can never predict when these things will happen. Besides leaving behind a family and team that loved(and still loves) him, Kirby was embraced by the city of Minneapolis and is still a celebrity for them today.
What I would like to try to do, besides honoring him, is estimate what more Kirby could have done as a major leaguer if he had played another handful(let’s say 6, making him 40 when he would have retired) of seasons. Taking nothing away from the incredible 12 years he gave his team and fans, I do feel a little ‘short-changed’ by his early exit from the game and really wonder what more he could have done.
First, for the accolades… Puckett was a 10-time All-Star, so you have to believe that he would have had another 3-4 appearances in the all-star game if he played another 6 years. Kirby won 6 Gold Gloves in his career, but none in the final 3 years. It is unlikely that he would have won any more. Puckett finished in the Top 7 for the MVP award 7 times over 12 years. At some point, it seems fair to say that he would have been awarded the MVP.
Ok, now for the stats. After 12 seasons Kirby Puckett had 2,304 hits, averaging 192 hits a year. 6 more years at his average and he would have easily eclipsed the 3,000 hit milestone, coming very close to 3,500. Puckett also had 207 home runs while averaging 17 a year. 6 more years at this pace and he would have eclipsed 300 career home runs. Kirby finished his career with a batting average of .318. It is safe to say that if he played another 6 years, he would have still finished his playing days with a career batting average well over .300.
When you think about the guys from the mid-80’s that put up similar numbers to these, it’s fair to say that Kirby Puckett belongs with that same group. Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, Don Mattingly, Ryne Sandberg, and many others. But the big difference is that Kirby’s game was more well-rounded. His home run totals and defensive ability may actually put him on a caliber above these guys.
Your thoughts on this? Where does Puckett rank in your eyes against the other stars from that 1980’s that have joined him in Cooperstown??