Puckett thoughts

It is always interesting to see how the media treats a fallen hero. You can go on the internet and watch the articles come down the pike as they are published. Usually, they are just a rehash of the same Associated Press article. Why I get into monitoring these things is anybody's guess.

With Puckett's death, many of the journalists from the far flung newspapers of the nation are seeing fit to write their own eulogies and tributes. I find this interesting. Most of them have some personal rememberance of Puckett, some connection, some memory which they seem compelled to report.

One reporter talked about cradling his four-day-old newborn as Puckett performed his Game 6 heroics in the 1991 World Series. Another talked about how he had to quickly purchase a ticket to fly from Baltimore to Minneapolis to cover Game 7 after Puckett extended the Series by winning Game Six.

A reporter from Chicago showed his provincalism by chiding Puckett for not doing more for the kids in the projects where he spent his first twelve years.

Old, cranky Patrick Reusse wrote a tribute in the Star Tribune which betrayed utter heartbreak. He and Puckett were friends.

Then, there are the tales from teammates, coaches and friends. Amazing stuff, really, if only because I can't imagine when Kirby got the time to be such a friend to everybody.

He called Torii Hunter often when he was a minor leaguer. He became friends with the guy who caught his Game 6 home run, bringing him along for his induction into the Hall of Fame. He sent a bottle of V.O. Whiskey to a minor league coach of his every month without fail--until the coach, Charlie Manuel, who now manages the Phillies, begged him to stop due to "health problems." Ahem.

Puckett knew the names of every player in spring training, even the lowliest rookies--and would give them gifts. He remembered individual fans. He was a close friend of staff in the Metrodome. He called reporters at home to give them flack--all in fun, of course.

When did he have time to do any of this?

Puckett was constantly taking opponents out to dinner. He'd throw in rookie with a veteran, usually a rookie outfielder for who he thought was promising. The tales keep coming out, and it has been less than a day since Kirby died.

But all this wonderfulness to the public and to his colleagues came, not surprisingly, with heavy price which was paid by those closest to him who knew all too well that there was a different Kirby.

This is a familiar pattern. The charmer, the beguiler, the wonderfully warm person, the magnetic, charismatic personality--the gregarioius, talented person who can't control his appetites and who ignores those who live with him.

Babe Ruth: Died of excess smoking and drinking. Had two children he barely knew. Cheated on his wife almost daily. Was a huge personality which charmed everybody in his path. And he was loved--that is the key word here--utterly loved by the public.

Mickey Mantle: Drank himself to death. Serial philanderer. Utterly talented. Magnetic smile, revered by colleagues. Charmed all he met with his personality.

Elvis: Loved by those who worked with him. Utterly magnetic. Irresistible public figure. A legend. Ignored his family. Died of overconsumption of food and pills.

Bill Clinton: Magnetic. Magic in person, according to those who have been near him. Huge personality. Lights up a room. Couldn't control his appetite for food and women.

I begin to think that you can't have benefits of the huge personality without the costs, for in order to be so attuned to the public, so attuned to public acclaim and the approval of all around you--you are likely driven by demons, the same demons which will eventually destroy you. Desperation for approval. Hopeless depression and hunger in its absence.

To these people, their families become mere props in their effort to charm the world. Love from those who already love you isn't satisfying--you must get more love all the time from people who haven't loved you before.

Another common denominator in these types: Gradual suicide once the source of public approval starts to dry up. Elvis Presley, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle are obvious examples.

Lyndon Johnson also comes to mind. His charisma wasn't the teddy bear type of Kirby, but it was considerable. He could give the famed "Johnson treatment" to anybody and win them over. He was overbearing but completely compelling in person. He womanized shamelessly, something which was kept quiet in those days.

Once Johnson lost his source of power, the presidency, he became pitiful. He held staff meetings at his ranch which eerily echoed the staff meetings at the White House--except he demanded accurate counts on the number of eggs the chickens laid.

When he moved back to the ranch from the White House, Johnson started smoking again after years on the wagon. He also consumed Cutty Sark whiskey by the case--a slow but sure way to do yourself in. He died only a few years later, a victim of his insatiable appetites.

Some sources are reporting that Puckett was nearing 400 lbs at his death. He could barely walk. He could barely see, of course, due to his glaucoma. He seemed to have a death wish.

When these charismatic personalities arise, it is fun for we the public to bask in their glow. What a twelve years it was watching Kirby play! I remember his first game, I remember his last and I remember exactly where I was when I heard of dozens upon dozens of his heroics on the ballfield. I won't bore you with the details of where I was standing when he went 6 for 6, but I could.

However, it seems inevitable that in order for us to be blessed by these special people, somebody has to pay the price. It usually is that person, who becomes a miserable wretch in the absence of the praise which is their manna, and those closest to him, who suffer the pain of being utterly inconsequential to the one they love.