The Death Of A Ballplayer

I’ve spent all night trying to find the words to describe the way I felt when I heard that Kirby Puckett was dead, and to describe what his life –primarily as a baseball player, but also as a complex, larger-than-life character– meant to me.

Because he did mean something to me.

He meant more to me than any ballplayer should mean to any reasonably intelligent adult, and –for all sorts of complicated reasons– more than any ballplayer ever will or could again.

I’ve been thinking about that since I first heard the sad news, and I’ve read many of the words that other people have already written about Kirby’s life and his death, but I’m still not close to finding any appropriate words of my own.

This was a man who gave me a great deal to think about.

I need to think about him some more.

I need to remember him, to sort through the waves of memories that’ve been rolling through my head since early last evening.

All I can really say right now –and this is perhaps pathetic or ridiculous– is that this was a man who I literally believe changed the direction of my life twenty-two years ago, for better or worse.

For better, I’m pretty sure, but that’s one of those things I have to think about.

This was also a man who once (twenty years ago) told me to cut my hair.

If I eventually figure out how to say what I feel like I want to say, I’ll crawl back here and say it. If not, fuck, what a kick in the teeth.

What a funny and wonderful and tragic life.

What a splendid, sad, inspiring character.

What a simple and complicated gift.

What a ballplayer.

From The Archives: Uncle Jumbo on Kirby’s 1996 retirement