Puckett pays the price after crashing vehicle

The price of fame was apparently established at $541,880 last November.
That was the haul from an auction of New York Yankee great Mickey Mantle’s personal effects — items ranging from his birth certificate to prescription medicine bottles bearing his name to his neckbrace. One zealous buyer even paid $6,900 for a lock of No. 7’s hair.
It seemed at the time that the Mantle auction — deemed “ghoulish” by the attorney for his estate — measured just how far people will go to acquire a piece of a sports hero.
That yardstick changed Sunday.
As Kirby Puckett and his father-in-law lay shaken up in an overturned sport-utility vehicle, a few passers-by took it upon themselves to loot several of the retired Twins star’s possessions.
Eyewitness Rick Carlson said he saw people loot an unopened box of crayons, papers and items that looked like compact discs.
That’s just great.
Paying close to $7,000 for a lock of anyone’s hair is absurd, but at least it’s honest. I could think of much better uses for that kind of cash, but then again it wasn’t mine to spend.
Stealing articles from the scene of a potentially life-threatening accident, however, is about as low as it gets.
The stocky outfielder spent his entire career winning the love of fans. When glaucoma forced him into early retirement in 1996, the state let out a collective sigh. The love is genuine, and it reciprocates.
Unfortunately, as we learned Sunday, that bond has a price. It isn’t measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it is costly nonetheless.
The accomplishments and personalities of our heroes make us want to be like them. We feel vicarious pride when they succeed, and inexplicable butterflies if we happen to get within hand-shaking distance of them.
But the same pleasures have a dark side. Instead of just rooting for athletes, we become dependent on their success. Devotion turns into something more. Maybe it’s you.
Then you’re driving down 35W, listening to the radio, and you hear Kirby Puckett has rolled over. Your first instinct — hopefully — is to hope he is not injured. Your second instinct is to wonder what happened.
And then you see flashing lights up ahead, and your curiosity begins to take over. You slow down and get out, maybe to help but mostly just to watch.
You approach the scene, now dotted with paramedics, police officers and other motorists. You see a loose piece of paper — a bill, a gas receipt, whatever — and you know it’s his because it’s his sport-utility vehicle that’s flipped over on the road.
You rationalize that you’re a big fan. Then, even though you the paper you see is not yours, you decide it should be.
No, it isn’t free.
Many athletes complain that they can’t go anywhere without being hounded by fans for autographs. It happened to past generations of sports legends and it will happen in the future as well.
It’s hard to say how much privacy athletes have the right to expect. On the one hand, they are public figures who enjoy the respect and admiration of many fans who would like to meet them. On the other hand, they are private citizens.
To be honest, it used to be a lot easier to blame athletes if they didn’t perform their “public duty” by signing autographs in a restaurant. After all, that’s all part of being famous, isn’t it?
It might be wise to think twice about where fans’ rights end and stars’ rights begin, especially in light of the weekend’s event.
Although the looters’ actions were almost universally condemned, there were obviously a few people who thought they had the right to take Puckett’s belongings.
But what the most beloved sports figure in sports history lost does not have a dollar value.
Puckett signs a lot of autographs and is generally considered to be quite jolly in the presence of fans. But on Sunday, he didn’t get to give — people just took.
What they grabbed was a piece of freedom that didn’t belong to them.
That shouldn’t be the price of fame.
— Michael Rand is the sports editor at The Daily. He welcomes comments at [email protected]