As Eddie cleaned his clippers he realized it had been more than two weeks since he had last seen his favorite “regular” in his chair. He knew he was due for a visit. Not long after the ‘open sign’ was lit that day, in walked a thick, gregarious brother shaking hands and clowning with all the locals inside Eddie’s Barbershop on 43rd St. and 4th Ave. in South Minneapolis.
The brother, Eddie’s favorite “regular,” was not so regular. He was Kirby Puckett—the legend. “Puck” the Minnesota icon. The Cooperstown Hall of Famer and Minnesota Twins Great who was beloved by Minnesota and adored by all the rest of the baseball world.
Aside from making humanly impossible plays in the outfield and blasting balls out to orbit at the Metrodome, Puckett liked to hangout and shoot the breeze with neighborhood folk at Eddie’s Barbershop. Considered a milestone in the Southside community, Eddie’s has been in business for 36 years. Puckett became a client and a friend of Eddie’s when he first got drafted to the Twins in 1984. His weekly visits became a consistent routine.
When word hit that the Minnesota legend had passed away after suffering a massive stroke Monday, March 6, a somber mood filled the barbershop. “I felt bad when I heard the news because [Kirby Puckett] was a really good friend of mine,” said Eddie who often kept in touch. “He was one of those rare kind-hearted persons. He was good people.”
Puckett was rushed to a Phoenix hospital to undergo surgery after suffering a stroke at his Arizona home Sunday morning. He remained in critical condition in the intensive care unit until the hospital said he succumbed to complications of a stroke Monday afternoon. He was 45.
“Even after Kirby moved to Arizona he would still keep in touch. He always hollered at me whenever he was in town,” said Eddie.
The disheartening news sent hurt and shock through the Minnesota Twins organization and the entire nation of sports fans. The loss of No. 34 also sunk the hearts of everyday community members and business owners who had the privilege to get familiar with the electric personality of Puckett. “Kirby would stop by the shop every two or three weeks to get his hair cut and hangout,” related Eddie. “He wouldn’t even want a haircut sometimes, he just wanted to talk. We would be sitting around just talking for hours. We even kicked it well after closing hours on some occasions.”
Former teammates and baseball associates assert that Puckett was just that kind of guy.
“The thing you have to remember is, Puckett didn’t separate people,” said friend and former coach Ron Gardenhire. “Everyone had a chance to be his friend. You could have been a star or a Joe off the street, it didn’t matter to him.”
Twins general manager Terry Ryan offered similar sentiments, “He treated everyone the same. He was a generous guy with a great sense of humor and an unbelievable personality. Whether it was a media member or a bat boy or the clubhouse kids or the bus drivers or teammates, he was a fantastic guy.”
Off the field, the Chicago native was quite the entertainer. So expressive and amiable, his compelling personality consumed from a distance. “You will never see me down. I am always a person that says, ‘if things are not going my way now, hey, they’ll change,” said Puckett during a May 1986 interview after bursting into the national scene with nine home runs in April.
On the field, the six-time golden glover and five-time silver slugger was nothing short of a statistical monster during his 12 seasons for the Twins. He led the American league with a .318 batting average and slugged more than 200 homeruns.
Before glaucoma would cause the ‘91’ MVP to retire in 1996, Puckett would make history record his legacy.
The ten-time All Star executed game-winning plays that helped the Twins seize two World Series titles, in 1987 and 1991. He proved to be cooler than a snowstorm during clutch situations.
There is not a lot of memories a seven year-old files forever but I will never forget walking out of the Metrodome to blocks and blocks of parading people all marveling in another world championship in 1991. I experienced Minneapolis collectively go nuts. Thanks to Kirby Puckett’s remarkable walk-off homerun and dazzling mid-air catch, Minnesota was enthralled in a triumphant high.
“Puckett revived baseball here. What you remember is he always had a smile on his face. And he made such impression on kids,” former Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek was reported as saying.
As a matter of fact, the Twin Cities icon impressed virtually everybody he came across. From cuttin’ up in the clubhouse to chillin’ at Eddie’s Barbershop, Puckett embraced and humored people. “Not to many athletes come to local businesses in the hood,” shared Eddie. He said athletes often venture to secluded barbershops in the suburbs instead of ones in the city. Not Kirby. “For him to just be around like he was an ordinary person meant so much to the community and [to] the kids.”
Inside Eddie’s Barbershop, different pictures of Puckett taken throughout the years line the wall. The photos evidence a gradual increase of weight with each visit. “There was an issue as far as his weight was concerned,” Eddie said. “In fact, his kids were in here looking at the picture on the wall the other day and said, ‘daddy sure was skinny then,’ pointing to one of the old pictures.”
The added weight was never more apparent than at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2001. Responding to a reporter’s question, Puckett said he often fantasized about the perfect athletic body. The Chicago native said he would be 6-2 and all muscle with Lou Brock’s speed and Hank Aaron’s power “but personality…I got to have my personality.”
Framed like a fire hydrant, Puckett only stood a bubbly 5 foot 8 inches. The image his personality shaped was that of a giant. It was his personality that allowed people like Eddie to consider (among the rings, accolades, and fame) a national superstar as a “regular.”
Yes, it was God’s gift of athletic ability that made him the baddest player to ever sport a Twins jersey. But, it was personality that made “puck” immortalized in Minnesota. Now, when people think of Minnesota they will think of Kirby Puckett and that animated smile.