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Monday, July 4, 2022
Home Sports MLB This Kirby Puckett Bunt Will Cleanse You from HOF Discourse

This Kirby Puckett Bunt Will Cleanse You from HOF Discourse





This is a man named Kirby Puckett. The GIF below features him as a 24-year-old rookie center fielder for the Minnesota Twins in 1984. Here, he executes a perfect bunt single:

Much has happened in the intervening 38 years since that bunt. Puckett played 12 seasons in MLB, winning a batting title, two World Series championships, and ten All-Star honors. On September 28, 1995, an errant pitch ended his season and, as it turned out, his career. The following spring Puckett was diagnosed with glaucoma. In 2001, he was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot. The following year, he allegedly pulled a woman into a restaurant bathroom against her will and was subsequently arrested for false imprisonment and criminal sexual assault. He would be cleared of all charges in 2003, but not before the exposition of years of abusive behavior towards his wife and mistress. On March 6, 2005, he died at the age of 45.

Puckett’s legacy as a ballplayer and a human being is an impossibly tangled labyrinth. That’s true for all of us to different extents. Professionally, he was superb in every facet of the game. By the standards of his time period— presumably considered by 2001 HOF voters— he was a career .318 hitter who led the league in hits four times. He collected six Gold Gloves and six Silver Sluggers. Indisputably, Puckett was an icon of the Twins franchise and remains one of the top five players in their history to this day. More than that, he charmed fans and media with his bright smile and friendly public persona. He was chosen as one of “USA’s Five Most Caring Athletes” by USA Weekend in 1995 and won the Roberto Clemente Award in 1996. The baseball world wept collectively for the tragic, premature demise of his career. He was easy to love.

It was not until after he received baseball’s highest individual honor that we learned the truth about his private life. His wife filed for divorce in 2002 claiming domestic violence and an “irretrievable breakdown” of their marriage. His longtime girlfriend became similarly fed up, as documented by Sports Illustrated’s George Dohrmann. Kirby was, of course, an ideal family man – even though, truth be told, he was not even an ideal scoundrel, because he also had cheated on his mistress of many years with a passel of other sad and lonely women. And you thought the fans were duped. She was so shocked at his perfidy, the mistress of many years, that she began to seek comfort in commiseration with the wife. ”

The Hall of Fame

If Puckett had been eligible for the HOF in 2022 instead of 2001, would he have been elected? Through a more modern statistical lens, the answer is not as clear. WAR and JAWS did not exist 21 years ago. His 51.1 bWAR is soft by HOF center fielder standards. He ranks 24th in career JAWS at the position, just behind Johnny Damonwho received only 1.9 percent of votes in 2018, his only year on the ballot.

Moreover, the Hall’s infamous character clause does much heavier lifting these days. Omar Vizquel– a HOF candidate whose own on-field credentials are borderline— was arrested for domestic violence in December 2020 in the middle of the 2021 voting process. His then-wife publicly detailed the physical and emotional abuse she endured over the course of their relationship. COURT voting is insignificant by comparison. Nevertheless, his share of the vote slipped to 23.9 percent in 2022 after peaking at 52.6 percent two years earlier.

Vizquel was not the only domestic abuser on the ballot. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemensand Andruw Jones have all been credibly accused of violence against women. Curt Schilling‘s litany of dangerous, violent, and hateful rhetoric prevented his own enshrinement. Additionally, several players on this year’s ballot have connections to performance-enhancing drugs, notably including both Bonds and Clemens as well as David Ortizthe only player elected in this cycle.

Rightly or wrongly, Puckett is most definitely not the only domestic abuser in the Hall of Fame. Ortiz is not the only (alleged) PED user in the Hall either.

I do not know too many athletes, even the ones who claim to be these wonderful Christians, who aren’t out doing some terrible things. It’s insane. There is something terribly wrong with this, because it does not just start in the major leagues. It starts when they’re young, like in high school, and there is a code they follow.

Kirby Puckett’s ex-wife

The character clause, of course, is the brainchild of Kennesaw Mountain Landis, MLB’s first commissioner and a HOFer himself. Despite his insistence on character as a HOF criterion, he was more directly responsible for the perpetuation of segregation than any other individual in baseball history. It’s no coincidence that Jackie Robinson signed with the Dodgers less than a year after Landis’ death.

***

Baseball can be difficult to love, especially this time of year. The sport has never been more confusing and exhausting. Measuring the on-field accomplishments of Sammy Sosa or Gary Sheffield is difficult enough, but comparing the nuances of Ortiz’s PED connections to Álex Rodríguez’s is mentally draining. Weighing in the tribulations of Mindy McReady, the suicide victim who was allegedly statutorily raped by Roger Clemens starting at age 15, is more than most fans or HOF voters are qualified to handle. Behind all of this is the backdrop of MLB’s lockout that threatens the 2022 season.

That’s not to say we should not have these conversations. Whitewashing over domestic violence or the other heinous acts of some players is tantamount to denial and acceptance. Whether or not such evils disqualify someone from the HOF is in the eye of the beholder. For entirely different reasons, the same can be said for PED users, though their transgressions are more baseball-specific.

Late January is the winter solstice of MLB. We have never been so far from the light. Bonds’ 762 home runs and seven MVPs are as much a part of his story as BALCO labs or his mistress’ testimony of domestic abuse. To ignore his entire legacy, good and bad, is disingenuous at best and complicit at worst. Nevertheless, it makes it so damn hard to remember why we love this stupid game in the first place.

Kirby Puckett is a Hall of Famer. Whether or not he belongs there is another matter. Was he truly good enough as a player or as a man? That’s not just a complicated question, it’s also mentally grueling and wearisome— doubly so for the reverberations of what his enshrinement means for Barry Bonds. That’s why it’s all the more important to remember why we bother to care in the first place. Baseball— real baseball with a ball and a bat— is beautiful. It does not feel like it in January, but we’ll get back to it again. Eventually.

Meanwhile, take the time to appreciate this bunt one more time to alleviate your headache:

What a gorgeous bunt!

*Names of the surviving abused persons and links to documentation of their trauma have been intentionally withheld from this article.












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