The Twins World Series Hero Suffered a Career-Ending Injury and a Fatal Stroke a Decade Later
Minnesota lost one of its legends exactly fifteen years ago, a man baseball fans had lost ten years before. Perennial All-Star and World Series Most Valuable Player Kirby Puckett passed away on this date in 2006, at the way too young age of 45.
His fatal stroke was a tragic end to a Hall of Fame inductee, whose career had also ended quite tragically. With just two games remaining in an otherwise forgotten 1995 season for the fifth place Twins, Puckett came to bat in the first inning.
Cleveland pitcher Dennis Martinez quickly got ahead after delivering two strikes to Puckett, so the right hander wanted to avoid the middle of the plate to Minnesota's best hitter. Unfortunately, the pitch got away from Martinez, striking Puckett and breaking his jaw.
The slugger went down as players on both teams looked on in horror, growing slightly relieved when Puckett finally stood and was helped back to the dugout. Manager Tom Kelley sent outfielder Chip Hale to run for Puckett, unaware that his star outfielder would never play another game.
One day the following spring training, Puckett woke up to find himself blind in the right eye. That case of glaucoma forced Puckett to retire, but he was inducted into Cooperstown five years later.
His case for the Hall of Fame, in spite of a shortened career, was open and shut. In addition to two World Series titles as well as his magnificent offensive numbers, Puckett also had on his resume ten All-Star games and six Gold Gloves.
The Metrodome for many years after Puckett's last at bat in 1998 seemed to be missing his presence on the field, although he did make frequent apperances as a spectator. Just as Minnesota fans were growing accustomed to see their former star as an onlooker rather than in the lineup, they were faced with the tragedy of March 6, 2006.
Surgery to treat the brain hemorrhage brought on by a stroke failed that morning, so the medical staff informed Puckett's family and loved ones that the end was near. Former teammates Shane Mack and Kent Hrbek caught flights to Phoenix to be by his side, as they watched Puckett pass away.
He was at 45 the second youngest member of the Hall of Fame to die, next to 37 year old Yankee legend Lou Gehrig.