Kirby struck out

Karl Noyes

Three hundred eighty-six Kirby Puckett cards bide their time in books stowed in the webs of my basement.

The cards are worth about 19 cents now.

My sister asked if I was going to eBay them because of the trial, but I told her they were too valuable. Especially the 1988 Fleer #19 with the rounded corners and hairline creases. Kirby looks like a god, hallowed by the sunlight and wearing a look like the next pitch thrown would be a double just so he could steal third. In his hands, Kirby held Moses’ staff. He would lead the Twins to the promised land. Twice.

Yet, Kirby is Scorsese’s raging bull. Another hero built to be destroyed.

Kirby was a poor kid with blue-collar parents, a big smile and a chubby body, from the fiery hells of ghetto Chicago. He was billed as the perfect guy – community-driven, family-centered, happy, religious and determined. Not to mention that Kirby could track down any ball hit to right, left or center field. Of course, Kirby wasn’t who he was billed to be. Nobody could’ve been.

The number 34 was sanctified. In Little League, 34 was always the first number picked. A kid could be the worst player in five counties, but with number 34 he got respect. Yeah – it was fan appreciation day in 1988 and the fans were roped off and the players streamed by shaking hands. I remember the hush: “That’s Kirby, that’s K-i-r-b-y Puckett.” I was too afraid to shake Kirby’s hand – I thought I’d ruin his career, break his wrist or give him some illogical disease. Everyone would’ve been angry at me; I would’ve been angry at myself. I was happy just to see Kirby.

Nobody really says, “Say it ain’t so, Mr. Gates,” or “You broke my heart, Mr. Clinton.” Gates, Clinton and others like them are adult heroes more pursuant of power and prestige than purity. Athletes are different, or at least they used to be. Athletes are grownups playing kids’ games, admired and not ridiculed for prolonging youth. There’s something noble and fearless in playing fool while the world seems to crumble. It’s like a smiling before the guillotine. It’s like laughing in somebody’s face before the fist comes.

College is where heroes are exposed for who they are – human. Martin Luther King Jr. plagiarized many of his works and cheated on his wife. Gandhi supported Hitler by advocating pacifism. Rudy Giuliani is a spotlight-seeking sellout. Wonder Woman and Batman aren’t real. Abraham Lincoln was depressed and astronauts no longer walk on alien terrain. Beyond adolescence, heroes don’t play a role.

In 1991, I knew Kirby would make that catch in game six. I knew he would hit the game-winning home run. When he was a baseball player, he didn’t let you down. Twelve years ago, the North Stars left Minnesota. The Vikings broke hearts. And the Timberwolves were awful. But I could count on Kirby. Today, the Wild are decent and the Timberwolves make the playoffs. The Vikings still break hearts. However, Kirby Puckett is no more.

Reports started coming out that Kirby cheated on his wife, held a gun to her head and didn’t give a damn about kids or community. Allegedly, he dragged a woman into a bathroom stall and defiled her. He was acquitted of the charges last week. I didn’t want to believe it. It’s like hearing the screech of car tires and knowing your dog’s dead. I understand now that Kirby the baseball player was real but Kirby the hero was not. The media that helped create the myth now present Kirby as fat, perverted and another fatality of fame, another dead role model. I don’t know whether to cry or curse. I don’t condone the threats and violence or the pushes of power. Abusing women is against every fiber of my existence. Yet, I forgive the man that brought me so much childhood joy. I forgive the man. After all, only God is infallible.

Karl Noyes is a member of the Minnesota Daily editorial board and a University first year. Send letters to the editor to

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