Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Kirby

A quick note on Crash winning best picture: Somewhere Oliver Stone is dancing in his grave.

Remember what I said about Crash way back in the day? (scroll to the bottom)

And here's what it would have taken for a Brokeback Mountain sweep: One more scene with dialogue, one less sweeping guitar crescendo over a looming vista shot. You guys blew it.

The greatest baseball player of my lifetime died Monday. This may seem like impulsive revisionist Minnesota history but I don't think the rest of the baseball world knew what we had in Kriby Puckett. In a pre-steroidal era he performed at the top of his game for 12 seasons. He had it all: power, hitting for average, defense (range and arm), and speed. I'm the first one to say that fake sports superlatives like moxie, grit, and "intangibles" are meaningless but with Kirby they might have actually meant something. But most of all Kirby Puckett was a force - the force that pushed one of the worst world champions of all time - the 1987 Twins - over the edge. And then when a better Twins team in 1991 needed a bigger push to beat a great Braves team, Kirby gave it to them in the form of Game 6.

Game 6
. A word and a number that mean one thing to Mets fans, another to Red Sox fans, and a whole other thing to Twins fans. I'd like to say I was at the Metrodome on Saturday October 26, 1991 to see the game but I hadn't been inside the Dome since a beautiful summer day in '86. But, though I was living in California at the time, I was in Minneapolis for Game 6. I had gone there to visit friends and to see my father who was living in Singapore at the time but was in Minneapolis on business. That afternoon I had lunch with my father at a suburban office park restaurant in Bloomington. The restaurant overlooked the lake where I used to walk dogs with my first real girlfriend. My father and I talked about careers and Los Angeles and Singapore. We might have even talked about the Twins. It was one my favorite memories with him. For the next few years I saw little of him and he died in 1995, making that day the last I spent alone with him. And damn those French fries at Kincaid's rocked!

By the time Game 6 started, Dad was back at his hotel to rest for his flight back to Asia the next morning. I found myself at a sports bar called Hoops with my friends John and Brett. In the early 90s, downtown Minneapolis was undergoing a renaissance. The recent arrival of the Target Center and the Timberwolves and the hope (ha!) for a new outdoor stadium for the Twins (and maybe the Vikings) propelled a sports bar building boom. Suddenly, one had the choice of watching a game at Hoops, Pucks, Champs, Palomino, Gamers, Milligans, or any of the other half-dozen sports bars in the area (note: 3 of the 6 quoted sports bar names are fake; my memory's not that good). Anyway, hardly any of the bars are there anymore, making them a early nineties phenomenon like Sinbad, successful war planning, and the neo-jam band scene.

Hoops was a dark place, with cheesy basketball scenery like fake hoops and nets on the walls (but no balls, not even Nerfs!). Anyway, back to Kirby. The Twins were behind in the Series 3 to 2 and, if you haven't already heard, Kirby single-handedly drove them to victory, making a legendary catch (and throw) to rob Ron Gant of a home run and hitting his own definitive home run (pictured above) to win the game in the 11th. The energy in that ridiculous sports bar surpassed any collective force I've ever been exposed to. It was like we were at the Metrodome and we almost were (we were 4 blocks to the south, 6 blocks to the west of the goddamn Teflon wonder). Yeah, Game 7 was the next night and Jack Morris pitched 10 shutout innings and Brett, John, and I watched it in the hotel room my dad left for us and that was all good but Game 6 got scratched into my soul.

Then the story got darker. The Twins stopped winning World Series every four years. Kirby got hit by a pitch. Kirby went blind in one eye. Kirby retired. Kirby got fat. Then it got really ugly. Kirby may have groped a woman in an Eden Prairie restaurant men's room. Kirby may have threatened to kill his wife. Kirby may not have liked sick children. Kirby may have used a chainsaw to open a locked door. I could be reflexive and defensive and say now isn't the time to bring those things up (too soon! too soon!) but too late for that. Most of these allegations came up in a Frank Deford article in Sports Illustrated in 2003. Twenty years ago I'd have believed anything Deford wrote and SI published. But this was around the time the magazine went salacious in their bid to stay relevant in the ESPN era (just ask Mike Price) and if you've listened to Deford's wretched NPR commentaries the past few years you'd know that once he grabs an angle he won't concede it if it means not being able to make a bad pun about the crazy world of "sport." God, I hate Frank Deford.

And I loved Kirby. And I still realize that some of it had to be true, that "the beloved little pudgy guy with the infectious smile"(itself a vaguely offensive descriptor that white upper-midwesterners latched on to in lieu of something more complex). I know that magazines have fact-checkers and not every source lies. If I had to guess how much of the very bad things Deford wrote about Puckett were true, I'd put the percentage at about 31.8%, matching his .318 lifetime batting average. That's just a guess. It could be worse. He could be perfect though none of us are. I just feel bad. The perfect baseball player in an imperfect baseball generation just died of a stroke at 45. I feel bad for him, his friends and family, his fiance, his ex-wife, the woman at the restaurant, the Twins fans (reflexive and otherwise), and Minnesota in general (a fine place to live by the way).

Here's more on Game 6. And here's Scoop Jackson getting it right, as he always does.

3 comments:

Jason B. said...

Thanks, man.

Steve Kilkus said...

Ali,
Thanks for the kind words. Jason sent me the link to your blog and I appreciated your prompt take on the death of Kirby. He was the best baseball player that I ever saw and I loved watching him play. He's one of the reasons I took Monica and Jeremy to the Metrodome year after year to watch the Twins. We had loads of fun. Thanks for the memories.

Steve Kilkus, Madison, WI

thingsoncobras said...

Thank you. Boy, I liked that guy. I just remember the way he would bust his ass getting to first plate, every time, even if it seemed like a sure out. That's what he did. That was the kind of player he was in a nutshell.