KIRBY PUCKETT came to Minnesota in a happy accident: During the 1981 strike, the Twins' assistant farm director went to watch his son play in a summer league and became so taken with the small outfielder from Triton Junior College who was also in the league that Minnesota spent their top pick on him the next year. Puckett, who died in Phoenix on Monday, a day after suffering a stroke, spent his entire 12-year career with the Twins. He broke in as a 5'7", 175-pound rookie in 1984, though he wouldn't always be that lithe. But as he grew in girth, he grew in stature. He led the Twins to their first two World Series titles, in 1987 and '91--the defining moments of the latter being Puckett, now a fireplug of a man, flinging himself against the Metrodome fence in Game 6 to rob Atlanta's Ron Gant and then winning the game in the 11th inning with a homer.
By the time Puckett was forced to retire in 1996 due to glaucoma in his right eye, he was a 10-time All-Star. In retirement his reputation was tarnished by allegations of sexual misdeeds and domestic abuse, and his weight continued to balloon. Friends and former teammates would come by his house unannounced to plead with him to take better care of himself. "We would tell him," said former Twin Jacque Jones. "But he enjoyed life. He enjoyed the size he was."