Throughout the history of Major League Baseball, and certainly that of the Minnesota Twins baseball team, few characters have achieved the iconic status as that of former major-leaguer Kirby Puckett. His life started in the world’s largest housing projects -- Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes -- a place made up of 28 blocks of cement jungle (1). He was born the last of nine children. His life was lived on one of the world’s largest stages: that of professional baseball. He died after a stroke in March of 2006 at the age of 45; isolated in Arizona; in poor health; and with his reputation destroyed largely by his own doing. His life was truly shaped like the classic bell curve: Puckett went from the projects, to the palace that was Major League Baseball, and then down to the figurative penitentiary of a bad reputation.
In his 12-year career -- one that included a .318 batting average Puckett and six Golden gloves -- Puckett led the Minnesota Twins to World Championships in both 1987 & 1991. He was a fan favorite during his entire career with the Twins and Twins fans could be counted on to chant “Kir-beeeeeeeeee Puckett” throughout each home game. In his last at-bat of the 1995 season, Puckett was hit by a pitch that, as it turned out, broke his jaw. The next year he would be diagnosed with glaucoma – largely due to complications from the prior season’s injury – which forced one of Major League Baseball’s superstars and certain Hall-of-Famers into an early retirement.
In his book “The Divine Conspiracy,” USC Philosophy professor Dallas Willard tells the rest of the story…
Kirby Puckett was one of the most loved men ever to play the game and a well known Christian. Dennis Martinez, pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, once crushed the left side of Kirby’s face with a pitch. Martinez assumed that Kirby would hate him. But when he had recovered a bit, Kirby called Martinez “my good friend” and blamed himself for not getting out of the way of the fastball. He was an outstanding community leader for good causes, and expressed his faith naturally in words that matched his life. Everyone knew who Kirby was trusting and why he would not hate someone who had injured him. He was living in God’s world and relying upon it. (2)
If it is true that starting well is good and ending well is the best, then it must truly be only thru God’s grace that we are allowed to start good and end poorly… and still make it to heaven! This may be the final epitaph of the Minnesota Twins’ Kirby Puckett… or maybe not. Only God knows. He was certainly not the only Christian who ever closed out his life in less-than-glorious circumstances. Yet, one cannot escape the profound example that Kirby set when he played baseball and how he ended his playing career:
23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, (Colossians 3:23 - NIV)
Only a life dedicated to God’s approach to living could accept such a tragic ending to what had been such a promising career -- One pitch and the career was over. That is the rest of this story.