We really do not know celebrities when you think about it.
When I worked as a segment producer for a series of talk shows, I remember mentioning to friends and family some of the names of the people I interacted with. Bob Costas, Alan Alda, Carl Reiner, Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer, Jeff Foxworthy, George Wallace, Tim Roth… they were many more.
Some were stand offish. I won’t name who. Some were charming. (Tim Roth is hilarious, FYI.) And Michael Strahan was so friendly, you’d think we went to high school together watching us talk.
Often a friend or family member would say “I like him” or “She seems nice.”
And I would think “How do you know that? You only know the public persona.”
If we have learned anything from the chipping away of public personas like Mel Gibson or Bill Cosby, it is that we need to realize what we are seeing on TV and on line is a carefully crafted image and we do not really know the person.
The late Kirby Puckett is such a person. Here he is pictured in a truly stupid Topps card when the art department was getting a little bored. The big bat? Seriously? But Kirby was a good sport.
During his 12 year Hall of Fame career, Puckett seemed to represent everything good in baseball. He played his entire career with the small market Minnesota Twins. He had an infectious smile and positive personality. He put up big numbers and came up huge in big games.
Physically, Puckett looked funny. He was short and squat and stocky but not fat. He looked like a human fire hydrant. And yet he could run fast, play centerfield at a Gold Glove level, hit big towering homers and contending for batting titles.
The native of Chicago made his debut with the Twins in 1984 and made a huge impression, going 4 for 5. By 1986, he was becoming a legit MVP candidate but looked like he was going to toil in obscurity in Minnesota.
In 1987, the Twins won a weak AL East but upset the Tigers in the ALCS. In the World Series, Puckett batted .357 to lead the Twins to their first ever title.
Now a superstar on the national stage, Puckett became an All Star regular, winning the 1989 batting title. The Twins were back in the playoffs in 1991 and it was Puckett who was the ALCS MVP against Toronto. In Game 6 of the World Series, he famously made a leaping catch against the wall and launched an 11th inning walk off homer off of Charlie Liebrandt to tie the series, which the Twins would win.
He turned town bigger contracts to stay in Minnesota where his career was cut short when a Dennis Martinez fast ball hit him in the eye in 1995.
He retired in 1996 as glaucoma took away his eye sight. He remained a popular and powerful force in the Twins organization. He got his number retired, had a statue erected to him and was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, symbolizing all that was good in the game.
And yet in his retirement, we learned of abuse of his wife and other women. We learned of accusations of assault and sexual misconduct. Yes, he was never found guilty in a court of law, but anyone with any knowledge of the difficulty of testifying against someone beloved and powerful knows that does not mean innocence.
Enough was brought up to make anyone think “Wait a second, what is going on here? This is fun loving Kirby Puckett!”
But we knew the image. We knew the persona. What actually happened probably died with him on March 5, 2006 when he suffered a stroke.
Celebrate Puckett the player and exciting figure on the field. But the person? I am not sure I can. I didn’t know him.