Unfortunately for the Twins, not even Puckett was able to get the legislature to pony up, and then some on the team began to realize that Puckett himself was losing his good sense, risking his pristine reputation. Twins employees apparently booked trips for Puckett with Nygren and other lovers—as, it seems, some had assisted him with his trysts in the past, when he was still a player. (The Twins say it's common practice for major league teams to book trips for players' relatives and friends.)
Tonya would eventually find out, through a private detective she hired after overhearing Kirby in an intimate phone conversation with another woman, that Kirby had many lovers. One of them, she alleges, was Anne Potter, the owner of a limousine service that had transported Tonya and the children as well as Kirby. Nygren, growing more bitter at the cavalier way Puckett treated her—she says he never took her out, never gave her presents, and he sneered that she was "damaged goods" because she had a child—finally understood how many other women there were. "What Kirby thrived on," she says, "were women who had low self-esteem, were overweight, on welfare and had kids. It's safe for him. He thinks we're thankful because nobody else will have us."
As 2001, the year that Puckett would become eligible for the Hall of Fame, approached, some in the Twins' front office were aware of Puckett's transgressions, which if exposed would surely jeopardize his chances for induction. When a female employee threatened to file a sexual harassment suit against the team because of Puckett's and other men's behavior, the Twins allegedly made a financial settlement that ensured her silence. (The team declined to comment on this.) Puckett's public persona remained clean, and in January 2001, sure enough, he was overwhelmingly voted into Cooperstown. Tonya, as always, was elated. "I would be grinning from ear to ear whenever he got an award," she says. "I felt so much joy, so much pride because I knew that I helped him to get where he was."
Puckett, though, had a new problem. Nygren was trying to get him to help support her son, who is now 15 years old. She believed that the child was his, and although a test had proved otherwise, she wanted to file a paternity suit and retest him. According to Nygren, he pleaded with her to wait until after his induction into the Hall of Fame, and she complied.
So, on a soft, clear summer's afternoon (what a glorious day for a baseball game!), Aug. 5, 2001, in Abner Doubleday's Cooperstown, as Tonya and their children watched, Kirby Puckett walked to the podium to accept induction into what is always called "the shrine." He began, "There may be a few people out there who remember a time when the word on Kirby Puckett was that he was too short or didn't have enough power to make it to the big leagues. Well, despite the fact that I didn't get to play all the years I wanted to, I did it."
He also expressed his gratitude: "Most importantly, my beautiful wife, Tonya, who has been there with me through a lot of the highs and lows of my career.... I love you, Tonya, and thank you for all that you have done for me. And you'll always be there for me, sweetie."
It was a little more than four months later that Tonya picked up the phone and heard Kirby in that intimate conversation with a lover, and it was two days after this, she says, that he threatened to kill her, and the myth of Kirby Puckett began to go up in smoke.
The divorce is final now. Tonya says, "I hope that other women can look at me and say, Where there is a will there is a way. You don't have to put up with all that. You can demand respect. It may take 16 years, but you can stand up and say I am not going to take this, not going to allow people to treat me with that much disrespect." She sighs. "There are certain things that you love that you have to walk away from because they are not good for you."
So now Kirby, who declined to speak to SI for this story, lives alone in a condominium in Bloomington. He does not see Nygren anymore. On Valentine's Day, 2002, when he learned that the mistress of 18 years was talking with the wife of 16—Tonya made the first call—he allegedly told Nygren, menacingly, "If I find out that it was you who sold me out, you're in trouble, girl." For that, Nygren obtained the order of protection, but eventually there was an agreement in which she promised never to release one of the tapes she had made of many of their calls.
The Twins are still located on a street named Kirby Puckett Place, but the namesake does not work there anymore, no matter how much the front office sugarcoats its comments about old number 34. The team did not use him last year in its latest quest to get public funding for a new stadium.