Billy-Ball Daily: 2006-3-7

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Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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The only spin here is on a curveball

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Top of the 1st
Today is not the day to remember the repeated allegations of sexual improprieties by Kirby Puckett, today let us remember the ball player who for 12 years brought a joy to the game of baseball. When we looked at the rotund 5-foot-8, 230-pound body of Puckett we didn’t see the classic athletic build of his teammate Dave Winfield, we saw one of us. We saw what could have been one of the guys who we play ball with Sunday afternoons in the park.

That is until we saw what the man could do with a baseball.

He brought joy and pleasure not only to his legions of Minnesota Twins fans who adored watching Puckett, but to fans of every team. He was no Joe DiMaggio look alike in centerfield but when Puckett retired following the 1995 season, with a .318 career average, it was the highest career batting average for a right-handed batter since DiMaggio retired with a .325 average.

In his very first game in the majors, he had four hits and by the time his career came to a premature end he had hit 207 home runs, drove home 1,085 runners and stole 134 stolen bases. He finished with 2,304 hits and his 2,040 hits in his first 10 years were more than any other player in the 20th century.

Every year seemed to bring another year of brilliance. In 1986, he was an All-Star, Gold Glove winner, and Silver Slugger, playing in 161 games for the second straight season while hitting .328 to finish 3rd in the league (to Wade Boggs), 3rd in the league in slugging (to Don Mattingly), 2nd in runs (to Rickey Henderson), 2nd in hits and total bases (once again to Mattingly), and his 31 homers were 6th (to Jesse Barfield). In that year, NBC announcer Bob Costas jokingly promised that if Puckett was batting over .350 when his child was born he would name his kid Kirby. That’s the story behind Keith Kirby Costas.

Somehow that season paled in comparison the following year when Kirby again was an All-Star, Gold Glove winner, and Silver Slugger and hit .332, led the league in hits, finished 3rd in total bases, and hit 28 homers as he drove home 99 runs. But Twins fans can barely remember the regular season of Puckett after his .357 batting average led the Twins to a seven-game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in one of baseball’s great World Series.

In 1988, Puck hit .356 with 24 home runs and 121 RBI, and for the second straight season finished third in MVP voting. The next year he “slumped” to .339, only good enough to win the batting crown.

1990 brought a rare year for Puckett hitting under .300 when he finished at .298 and the Twins finished in last place, but Kirby was just setting up his fans for a fabulous 1991. Kirby was in year six of his 11 straight All-Star appearances, and he won his fifth of six Gold Gloves. His .319 batting average was good enough for 8th in the league and he led his Twins from a worst-to-first rebound into the post-season.

In 1991, the Twins first faced the favored Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series and Minnesota prevailed in 5 games. Puckett hit .429 with two home runs and six RBI to win MVP honors. But while America was answering Michael Jackson’s musical question “Black or White”, the Twins were singing the praises of Kirby in arguably one of the greatest World Series of all time. The Atlanta Braves had also climbed from last place the previous year to reach the Series versus the Twins and held a three games to two lead entering Game 6. In the 3rd inning, Puckett made one of the Series great defensive plays making a leaping catching against the plexiglass wall of the Metrodome robbing Ron Gant of extra bases. Fast forward to the bottom of the 11th and Puckett leading off for the Twins facing Charlie Liebrandt, “And we’ll see you… TOMORROW NIGHT!” was the call made by Jack Buck in describing the greatest walk-off homer in Twins history. The next night in Game 7, Minnesota’s Jack Morris and Atlanta’s John Smoltz engaged in spectacular pitching duel with Black Jack winning 1-0 in 10 innings to give the Twins the championship.

Puckett played on, and played brilliantly, even winning the RBI title in 1994. But, almost exactly 10 years ago, on March 28, 1996, Kirby Puckett woke up that Spring Training morning unable to see in his right eye. Diagnosed with glaucoma, this bright star’s career was over. At the press conference announcing his retirement, Puckett said, “I was told I would never make it because I’m too short. Well, I’m still too short, but I’ve got 10 All-Star games, two World Series championships, and I’m a very happy and contented guy. It doesn’t matter what your height is, it’s what’s in your heart.”

We look at this round little ballplayer and we remember that he was the last player to hit for the cycle for the Twins. We recall that he had six hits in a game…twice. He was the last player to win three consecutive hits titles, and one of only three AL players ever to have done it. He was on the 1986 All-Star team with fellow Hall-of-Famer Dave Winfield; and in 1987 with Cal Ripken; 1988 he again played with Rickey Henderson; 1989 with Bo Jackson; 1990 with Mark McGwire; 1991 with Ken Griffey, Jr.; 1992 with Robbie Alomar; 1993 against Barry B*nds; 1994 with Pudge Rodriguez; and 1995, against Tony Gwynn, just to name a few of the stars who were hardly his peer. But whomever Puckett played with or against, Kirby held more than his own, he held your attention, he brought a smile to your face, he gave you hope and faith in the game he loved.

Puckett said, “Baseball doesn’t owe me a thing. I owe my whole life to baseball.” Today, baseball, and all of us who were touched by his luminosity should remember how much we owe Kirby for all the pleasure he brought to the game, and nothing more than that.

Top of the 2nd
Before I get to a few words I have prepared, I would like to thank Commissioner Selig, the organizers here at the Hall of Fame, and all of these great players for being here with me today. Particularly my fellow inductees, Dave Winfield, Mr. Mazeroski, himself, and to the family of Hilton Smith. I am overwhelmed by the number of great fans who traveled all of the way from Minnesota or wherever you came from. You are the best.
I also see some of my former teammates out there. It’s awesome that you guys took the time to be with me today. When I asked my family for advice about my talk today, they were quick to tell me to keep it short. So I will.

The only problem I have with that request is the time I need to thank all of the people who have helped me get here today. Because you don’t get where I am today without help from a lot of people. I hope those I leave out will excuse me, but I want to thank the coaches who taught me the fundamentals of Baseball – Dewey Kalmier of Bradley University and Bob Simmons of Triton Jr. College, who also taught me some of the important fundamentals of life.

To Carl and Eloise Pohlad and the entire Minnesota Twins organization, as well as all of the many teammates I played with throughout my career, including my buddy Dave Winfield – I can’t tell you what a joy it is to be inducted with a friend.

The tremendous guys I played against on all of the other teams. To Ron Washington, my first roommate (in those days we didn’t any of those single rooms like guys have today) – he was my big league father and he showed me the ropes as I broke in the big leagues. My manager and friend Tom Kelly, he led our teams to World Championships and he hasn’t lost his edge today. To my good friend, Tony Oliva, an awesome hitter who helped me to become a better hitter with his tremendous knowledge of this game. I hope to be here next year listening to you give your induction speech, Tony. I love you.

The amazing public address announcer voice of the Minnesota Twins, Bob Casey, who taught the world how to say my name. I also want to thank Ron Shapiro, Michael Maas, Brian Woods, and everyone at Shapiro, Robinson, and Associates. Ron, you are not only my agent, but one of my best friends. You have taught me so much about life and how to treat people, and I want you to know that I love and respect you very much, Ron, thank you so much.

To my mom and dad, and I’ll talk more about them later. To my brother Ronnie, who’s here. My sisters June, Frances and Jackie, all my sisters and brothers who followed my mom’s orders to never let their little brother’s clothes get dirty. I was cleanest kid in the ghetto.

And most importantly, my beautiful wife, Tonya who has been there with me through a lot of the highs and lows of my career. And who has taken such great care of my life’s greatest blessings, my babies, Catherine and Kirby Jr. I love you Tonya, and thank you for all that you have done for me. And you’ll always be there for me, and thanks for baby-sitting me for sixteen years sweetie. I appreciate it. And to Catherine and Kirby, Jr. You will never know how much your daddy loves you.

I had a lot of help getting here today. I had some great role models along the way. My on-field heroes were the great Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and Willie Mays. I wanted to be like them on the field and I am so damn proud to join them in the Hall of Fame.

My off the field heroes, the people who gave me the values to live by and who inspired me with their hard work and unselfish dedication to their family were my mom, Catherine, and my dad, William. My only regret is that they and my two brothers, Donnie and Spencer, could not be physically here today. I do know that they are here spiritually. And mom’s probably looking down right now and thinking about all those spankings she gave me for hitting balls through neighbor’s windows and breaking lamps and breaking everything in the house. I want to tell mom, well, ma, I hope you can see now that it was worth it. Your little baby is going into the Hall of Fame.

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.
And to any young person out there, if anyone tells you that you can’t do what you want to do and be what you want to be. I wanted to play baseball ever since I was five years old. And I want you to remember the guiding principles of my life: You can be what you want to be. If you believe in yourself , and you work hard because anything, and I’m telling you anything is possible. It doesn’t matter if you’re 5’8″ like Kirby Puckett or you’re 6’6″ like my man Winnie, you can do it.

And don’t feel sorry for yourself if obstacles get in your way. Our great Twins World Series teams faced odds and we beat `em. Jackie Robinson faced odds and made this game truly the national game.

And I faced odds when Glaucoma took the bat out of my hands. But I didn’t give in or feel sorry for myself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it may be cloudy in my right eye, but the sun is shining very brightly in my left eye.

And just think how the sun has shined. Right up to the door of this great Hall, the shrine for the greatest game in the world and the greatest players in the world, baseball.
We call it the national game because of its great and unique history. And it doesn’t matter where you came from. From the projects like me, in Chicago, or the gated communities of Beverly Hills. And because it doesn’t matter what race, creed or national origin you are: black, white, Hispanic, Japanese, or whatever. It just matters how you play the game. And I played it with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my might.

I played the game and tried to live my life in a way that would make the people that I love and care about proud. So, to my late parents, my two brothers who recently passed away, my remaining three brothers and sisters, all of my sisters and brother in laws, my mother in law, my nieces and nephews and all the many friends that I have. And most importantly, my wife Tonya and my children, Catherine and Kirby, Jr., I hope I have made you proud. I have been blessed with so much and so many to be thankful for. And I have been blessed to play the greatest game for the greatest fans in the world. And now I join the greatest players in the Hall of Fame. For all of this, I say Thank God and thank you. I love you all, thank you.

Top of the 3rd
Want our kid to have a long career in the bigs? Teach him to be a pitcher, and preferably a lefty. Hard to believe but Kevin Appier is still floating around, this spring trying to win a job with the Seattle Mariners (the job would be assured I bet if he were a lefty). Appier’s first major league camp was in 1988. Since then he’s toiled for four teams, thrown 2,595 innings and picked up 169 wins and 137 losses.

Three years ago, the Angels paid Appier $15 million to buy out his contract. He finished 2003 with Kansas City, and pitched four innings in 2004 for the Royals before shutting down with arm problems. He missed all of last season and he’s trying for one last dance with the M’s.

Yesterday, Appier pitched three hitless innings against the Brewers.

Top of the 4th
Pitcher Kevin Gregg is known as Yao Ming in the Angels clubhouse. The 6’6″ right-hander is not a slam-dunk to make the major-league roster and is out of minor-league options. He has also been outrighted in his career, meaning that if the Angels don’t place him on the major-league roster to start the season, the right-hander can become a free agent. Perhaps the Knicks will sign him.

Top of the 5th
New Angels’ pitcher Jeff Weaver can finally feel relaxed in his new uniform. Weaver signed a one-year, $8.325 million contract with the Angels this offseason after spending the previous two years with the Dodgers and yesterday in his Angels’ debut, he gave up eight runs and eight hits in 2 1-3 innings.

“I kind of get nervous if I don’t give up any runs — that’s a pretty typical spring start for me,” Weaver said of his shaky outing.

Top of the 6th
Kansas City’s left-handed starter Mark Redman underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee yesterday to fix a lateral cartilage tear. Acquired in a December trade with Pittsburgh, Redman was being counted on to be in the starting rotation. Redman was 5-15 with a 4.90 earned run average in 30 starts in 2005 with Pittsburgh. He has a 53-66 career record with a 4.47 ERA, and the Royals are his sixth club since 2000. Right-hander Zack Greinke left camp eight days ago for undisclosed personal reasons, but have no timetable on when he may return. Scott Elarton, a free agent sign from Cleveland, and Runelvys Hernandez, who reported to camp several pounds over his listed weight of 250, are the only certainties for the rotation if Redman and Greinke are not ready by early April.

For those of you who are making the Royals your pre-season pick to go all the way, you may want to reconsider.

Top of the 7th
BILLY-BALL-A-GRAM – 3/7/2006
A great slugger for Los Angeles of the PCL died on this date in 1978.

Who scored on Dave Winfield’s 3,000th career hit?
Send your answers to

Bottom of the 7th
On this date in 1969, this baseball legend and Billy-Ball all-time favorite retired.
Mickey Mantle ending his career with 2,415 hits and 536 home runs in 18 years with the New York Yankees.

Who was the first Texas Ranger to hit for the cycle?
Oddibe (young again) McDowell

Top of the 8th
The WBC’s Team USA beat the San Francisco Giants 12-7 yesterday. The good news is that Barry B*nds was nowhere to be seen, the even better news was that Willie Mays made an appearance. Mays stepped onto the field a couple of hours before the Scottsdale Stadium exhibition for a quick kibbitz. Mays had met Alex Rodriguez once before, over dinner at the 2002 Giants-Angels World Series, and wanted to get reacquainted.

“Hello, Mr. Mays,” A-Rod said.

Willie also wanted to meet Derek Jeter. So, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, A-Rod called for Jeter, who stopped fielding grounders at shortstop and ran like a cautious kid, not knowing exactly what to expect. “Man, you guys are tall,” Mays said.

“He wanted to take a picture with me?” Jeter asked later.

Say hey, Derek, say hey.

Top of the 9th
Why do we sing “Take me out to the ball game” when we are already there?
Bottom of the 9th
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Information provided in Billy-Ball has been gathered from A.P. reports,,, and numerous other e-sources. Opinions expressed in Billy-Ball are obviously solely the opinions of the author of Billy-Ball and do not reflect those of source material no matter how off the wall they may be.