Yesterday former Minnesota Twins CF Kirby Puckett died following a massive stroke. At 45, Puckett was the second-youngest enshrined Hall of Famer at the time of his death; only Lou Gehrig was younger (37).
Puckett led the Twins to a renaissance three years after his arrival in the AL in 1984. He started as a defensive star who could hit for average (0 HR in > 550 AB in his rookie year, only 4 HR in 680+ AB in his sophomore year), developed a power stroke and became the leader of the '87 and '91 World Series winners. His best-known performance is Game 6 of the '91 Series in which he robbed Ron Gant with a leaping catch at the wall and homered off Charlie Leibrandt to send the series to Game 7.
A roly-poly outfielder known for his infectious grin, Weeble-shaped body and community involvement, Puckett's life and behavior worsened as his retirement wore on him. Puckett retired when he was still productive (23 HR, 99 RBI in 137 games in '95) because he developed glaucoma in his right eye, which eventually blinded it. Puck's perpetual grin turned rictus in the early '00s when his ex-wife detailed extensive claims of violence and infidelity; he was arrested for assaulting another woman but cleared in '03. He gained significant weight and ultimately went through a divorce and incurred health problems that culminated with the stroke that killed him.
Puckett was the 9th of 9 children, grew up in a Chicago housing project, became a baseball star whose career and life spiralled to a tragic end.