Baseball reacts to Puckett's death

Baseball reacts to Puckett's death

The death of Kirby Puckett struck a chord with all those who knew him, especially his former teammates. Here is what those all across baseball are saying about The Puck, both as a man and a player.

"Kirby was one of my favorites and not just on the baseball field. He was one of the guys that showed me the way. But I wasn't the only one, he touched a lot of people's lives. ... I pattern my game after him. Everything I do is after Kirby Puckett. The way I run. The way I hit. The way I flip my bat on a base hit or a hit back to the pitcher. Everything is off him."

Torii Hunter, former teammate

"The clubhouse was alive when he walked in. I shouldn't say walk in, because he was there before everybody else. It was just amazing. That Game 6 [of the 1991 World Series] -- every day he would put his whole team on his back: 'Hop on, boys.' That was his favorite line -- hop on. 'Puck will take care of you.'

"That's the way you play baseball -- the way he hustled, the way he ran. just having fun. You didn't know if he was 0-for-25 or 25-for-27, you didn't know. He was the same every single day. You need a model in baseball to follow, and I tried to figure out how he did it every day. I tried, but he did it.

"My career -- my career is dedicated to him, that's how much he meant to me. That's how much he meant to a lot of people. He's got plenty of friends in Minnesota who he affected in a positive way. They'll always remember him no matter what issues came about after baseball was over, they'll always remember him in a positive way."

Jacque Jones, former teammate now with Cubs

"I almost break down too when I heard the news yesterday but I tried to hold it in. It's a really tough situation. It's a really hard day, really hard day for all of us. ... Kirby meant to me a lot. For me, it's like my own son. He used to call me Papa, too."

Tony Oliva, Twins Hall of Famer

"It's a sad day for baseball. But you can't help but smile when you think about Kirby. You really did appreciate the way his smile would make you feel when you approached him. You really appreciated his baseball ability. But at a time like this, you think about him as a person. He made the whole organization better -- how good and solid he was in every aspect of the game. ... It bothers me that I can't remember the last time I saw him."

Gary Gaetti, former teammate

"I don't think there is a better compliment that you can hand out to anybody. You can get voted to All-Star Games and that's nice but when you are revered throughout the league and you go to different cities and stadiums and people cheer you, that's pretty good. Not many visiting players get cheered when they go to another park."

Tom Kelly, former Twins manager

"I told (Twins clubbie and Puckett buddy) Clayton (Wilson) to tell Kirby that I loved him and that he taught me a lot about life, and Clayton told him (at the hospital on Sunday), so that was special. ... It's really sad. It's a great person we lost. They always take the good ones quick. ... He always used to say, 'In this game, thing things you can't control, don't worry about them.' I try to pass it on now. That's what I do and that's what I stress to these guys in here. This guy was my idol in the game."

Eddie Guardado, former teammate

"He's at the top of the totem pole. All respect to everybody else like [Harmon] Killebrew, Oliva and [Kent] Hrbek ... those guys are great, too, but Puck's Puck. There was just no one else like him."

Brad Radke, former teammate

"My experience in baseball is that people who have the greatest impact on players is their peers. The manager can only do so much, the general manager can only do so much. When you have guys like Puckett and [Kent] Hrbek and [Gary] Gaetti and [Greg] Gagne on the same team -- there's a saying in baseball that on any 25-man roster you'll have five real good guys and five who aren't so good. And it's which one of those five have the dominant personality to carry the other 15. With the Twins in that period I was there, the five dominant ones were definitely going to swing the 15 to the positive. I think we enjoyed the reputation we had for playing hard all the time, whether we were going to win 90 games or 70 games or whatever in between.

"After we won in '87, we opened one of those souvenir stores in a ritzy galleria. It had a glass door with the big Twins logo. I remember looking at the line to get in and there was a 5-year-old girl looking to get in and she touched the logo and said, 'Kirby Puckett.' "

Andy MacPhail, Cubs team president

"He was the Energizer bunny before the Energizer bunny was cool. He did it in a baseball uniform with sincere, unlimited, legitimate and unbounded joy. ... "[Puckett] was big (in Game 6 of 1991 World Series vs. Braves). He turned the game around with the catch out there (taking home run from Ron Gant in the third inning), and with the home run (off Charlie Leibrandt to win it). It was definitely Kirby in rare form."

John Schuerholz, Braves GM

"He treated everybody as an equal. When we traveled and went into a visiting clubhouse, Kirby knew every clubhouse person, every clubhouse staff member by name. He called every one of them by name. It was as impressive as anything to me, and said a lot about what type of man he was. How many players walk in and say, 'Hey, kid, get me a cup of coffee?' He knew every one by name, knew something about their family. That's how he treated everybody. He's just a tremendous person.

"I've never seen anybody who loved to play the game, who loved to work at the game more than Kirby Puckett. I think a large part of him was lost that day that was taken away from him. I can't imagine how he was able to come to terms with that. Kirby just woke up one day in Spring Training with a little blurry vision and never played again because he had glaucoma. There was no gradual decline of his skills, there was no emotional, 'Well, it's coming to the end for him.' It was all of a sudden done. I'm not sure he was ever able to come to terms to that. I don't know if anybody could."

Randy Bush, former teammate

"We had a game that same year [1991], where it was the eighth inning, we were down by two with two outs, and he came up and hit a bouncer to third that most guys would run out to first base and it would be the third out. He didn't do things that way. The third baseman thought it would be a routine throw across the diamond, but [Puckett] beat it out by a half a step. The next guy came up and hit a home run to tie the game, and we went on to win it in extra innings. His hustle gave us an opportunity to win that game."

Carl Willis, former teammate, now Indians pitching coach

"We had those great competitions with the Twins (when La Russa managed the A's). He was the kind of guy, he had the perfect personality because he would kid around, and then when the game started he would try to beat you. ... He gets in the Hall of Fame after a short career, that shows you his credentials as an all-around player, winning player."

Tony La Russa, Cardinals manager

"It breaks your heart. I talked to my team about it today. When you have all the hardware on the mantle and you've got all the postseason checks and you've got a World Series ring and you've got all that stuff, for every player I think ultimately when you look in the mirror at the end of your career, you ask yourself, 'Was I a good teammate?' Kirby Puckett was the ultimate. That's what everybody said about Kirby Puckett. I told my guys today at the meeting rather than mourn Kirby's passing, I want everybody to shake hands with the guy standing next to him and ask themselves if they're a good teammate."

Jim Leyland, Tigers manager

"At the Hall of Fame, we'd all go downstairs and there's a little lounge down there. And Kirby would get the microphone and start singing, and everybody else would start singing. He was just one of those kind of guys that brought out a lot of fun. ... There's only a few guys I really enjoyed watching play -- George Brett was one, Kirby Puckett and Travis Fryman. When you're a great teammate with a stature that he had, the respect players had for him and what he gave to the other players, you don't see that very often."

Al Kaline, Tigers Hall of Famer

"Everyday people don't understand what he did for everybody and anybody who wore a Twins jersey. That whole group I came up with -- with (Corey) Koskie, (Jacque) Jones, (Torii) Hunter and (A.J.) Pierzynski, the list goes on and on -- he was there every year in Spring Training and you could call him anytime of the day and he'd stop what he was doing to help you out."

Doug Mientkiewicz, former teammate, now with Royals

"In Spring Training, we were playing the Twins in Orlando and I'd heard about this young kid. I was on first base and a guy hits a ball to left center and, nine times out of 10, I'd make it to third. That time I didn't. That time I was out by about 10 feet. He got the ball, got rid of it quick, perfect throw, one-hopper, right on the bag. I'm out." (From the outfield, Puckett playfully wagged a warning finger, Brett said).

George Brett, Royals Hall of Famer

"He played with a lot of energy, he loved the game, was a tremendous hitter and a tremendous competitor. He was what everybody saw out there. You knew he was going to give you a game every at-bat he came up there, and you knew it was a big at-bat, no matter what the situation in the game was."

Mike Mussina, Yankees

"I was catching the night he had his Major League debut. (He had) four knocks. It was in Anaheim. ... He was a great, great player. Even as a visiting player or coach, he was always nice to see. He had a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy for the game. He was a pleasure to be around."

Jerry Narron, Reds manager

"What you saw is what you got from Kirby Puckett. If I've heard it once, I've heard it a million times since he died last night. All of the teammates and anybody who was around him -- the guy had an infectious smile; he picked up the team when they needed him most. ... Everybody talks about his home run off Charlie Leibrandt. I was in the tunnel, I was doing pre- and postgame for CBS Radio. I was in the tunnel and I told my engineer, I said, 'This matchup does not favor Charlie Leibrandt.' I didn't know Kirby was going to hit a home run, but I thought he might get an extra-base hit."

John Rooney, Cardinals and former Twins broadcaster

"I scouted him when he was at Triton Junior College in '82 or '83. ... He had an unusual body type for a baseball player. But ran so well, threw so well, and hit line drives all over the place. And I was the only Angels scout who turned him in for the draft that year. He was very impressive. And then I got to meet him just a little bit. The guy was just always full of energy and life. It was a sad moment. Just a horrible moment. ... We're all vulnerable and when our mortality doors are open, it becomes even more so when somebody like that dies we all take a step back and reflect."

Joe Maddon, Devil Rays manager

"I saw him hit a home run off Tom Henke in an extra-inning game. The ball had to be at least eye high. It beat us. He tomahawked it right out of the ballpark. So when we used to have meetings and they'd ask me, 'How do you pitch Kirby?' I said, 'You tell me.' He was a good ball, bad ball hitter. ... I remember he wore us out (in the 1991 ALCS). He made some great, great catches on us."

Cito Gaston, former Blue Jays manager

"I have a lot of good memories about Kirby. When he used to get a base hit, he'd throw his bat and it'd be flying all over the field. He was a unique player. We need some more players in this age and time coming in the big leagues that play like Kirby."

George Bell, former Blue Jays player

"(Game 6 of the 1991 World Series) was classic Kirby. We had just lost three games straight. The team was tense. He walked into the clubhouse before the game and said, 'Don't worry boys, jump on my back. I've got you today, the Puck's taking care of it.' And immediately lightened everybody up. Some players can say that, not many can say it and go out and back it up like he did. That's a great memory that all of us have.

"I can't imagine a player being more beloved than he was and deservedly so. He did not carry himself like a star or a Hall of Famer. He carried himself as a member of the team. He treated everybody with respect, the way it should be."

Randy Bush, former teammate

"Well the ironic part is that the first thing that comes to mind is 'full of life.' He was just such an energetic positive person. I didn't know Kirby very well. I started broadcasting in '85 and that was his second year in the big leagues. He was always so accommodating, always so respectful. I'd see him, like last year we played there -- I think it was last year --I'd see him going down to the ballpark and he'd always have a smile on his face, always had nice things to say. ... If you ever want a kid to go out and watch somebody play, I mean just watch this guy not only play the game hard but enjoy playing the game. It's so sad to realize how fragile we are. He was such a young man."

Joe Torre, Yankees manager

"It's scary really. Kirby and I are the same age. You start thinking about the things that can happen. ... He always seemed to come through with big hits and big plays. He was a tough guy to get out and more than anything you really didn't want Kirby up with the game on the line or really anytime with men on base."

Don Mattingly, former Yankee, whom Puckett nicknamed Donny Baseball ... "From there is just kind of caught on," Mattingly said.

"After Rod Carew, he was my guy when I was growing up. Being the same size as me, I could naturally relate to him. He was a big inspiration for every kid in Minnesota, the way he played the game, always upbeat, smiling, laughing. He was a champion on the field. He didn't have the stereotypical baseball body, 6-2, 200 pounds. He was short, squatty -- but you didn't want to throw him a fastball. He'd hit them chest high or off his ankles, it didn't matter. The way he put the city on his back, in '87 and '91, and brought those championships home . . . that made him a Minnesota icon forever.

"That big leg kick, every kid in Minnesota did that. I know I did. Whether you played Wiffle Ball in the yard or played in a park, you wanted to hit like Kirby with that big leg kick. I'll just always remember the way he played the game, with everything he had, but always with a smile on his face."

Mark Merila, Padres bullpen catcher, who grew up in Minnesota cheering for Puckett

"I remember when I first saw him. He was a tremendous player. He wanted to be the best. He was the best. ... Those teams (1987 and 1991 World Series champions) won because of him. You look at Puckett when they won those World Series. They had some good players on his team, but he was the guy who put the spark in them. I always tell players about Kirby. I always tell things he did as a player, how he went about playing the game."

Charlie Manuel, Phillies manager