Date of Death: March 6, 2006
Cause of Death: Stroke
If Puckett had died in 1992, he’d probably be at the top of this list. I’ve loved baseball since I was six and I revered Kirby. He was one of the best players the Twins ever had. He hustled. He was always smiling. And his body was so oddly shaped that you thought, heck, if Kirby can become a major leaguer, maybe I can too.
Unfortunately, he died shortly after his near-perfect public image was shattered by domestic disputes and criminal charges. Despite being exonerated on all charges, the ideal of Kirby was gone. He ballooned to over 300 pounds. He became just a regular dude who I rarely ever thought about. Still, when the news of his sudden passing came, it was a sad day. If I had any celebrity childhood hero, it was him. And a part of me hoped that someday he’d somehow win our hearts again.
Kirby is the only celebrity on this list that I’ve met. At the 1994 NBA Jam Session, Kirby was signing autographs. I was sicker than shit and waited in line for almost an hour. I remember Bill “Boom Boom” Brown was signing autographs, too, though I didn’t know he was at the time. I got Kirby’s autograph on one of his baseball cards (which is still encased in a hard plastic case). I shook his hand and got up the nerve to talk to him. I asked him if he was glad that the divisions had been realigned and that they’d get to face the Cleveland Indians more often now. I was thirteen, oblivious, and assumed the Indians would be terrible for all eternity. Kirby just smiled and explained that they have some good players coming up and that they’ll probably be pretty tough. I thought he was just being polite. Whoops.