The Minneapolis Star and Tribune was full of interesting nuggets during the week Kirby Puckett, then 23, found his way to the major leagues. Gymnast Nadia Comaneci retired at age 22. The Soviet Union announced it would boycott the Olympics in Los Angeles that summer. A fellow named R.T. Rybak was covering business news. Gloria Steinem, appearing in the Twin Cities for a lecture on women’s issues, predicted that 1984 would not be the year that a presidential candidate would choose a woman as his running mate. And a movie called “The Natural” opened in local theaters.
Puckett made his major league debut on May 8, 1984, going 4-for-5 in a 5-0 Twins victory over the Angels. His debut would have come a day earlier but for some unexpected delays. Reporter Jay Weiner explained:
New Twin ends up playing for time
By Jay Weiner Staff Writer
For a fresh-cheeked rookie, Kirby Puckett, just 23, has seen the world.
Unfortunately, the newest Twin saw it all Monday, the day he was supposed to make his major league debut.
“Where’s Punkett?” Twins Manager Billy Gardner said with characteristic mispronunciation soon after the 5 p.m. team bus arrived at Anaheim Stadium. “He didn’t go to Dodger Stadium, did he?”
The uniform, No. 34, was there. Even the neatly stitched “P-U-C-K-E-T-T” on the back of the Twins’ blue road jerseys. That name, with just two seasons plus 19 games of minor league experience, was to have been in center field, batting first against the Angels last night.
|Puckett got his uniform dirty soon enough, sliding into third base in one of his first games in the majors. (Star Tribune photo by Bruce Bisping) |
“When they draft you into the Army they put you at the front lines, right, pal?” Gardner said.
Right. But it was already 6 o’clock, the Twins were due for batting practice and, still, no Puckett, the 5-foot-8, 185-pound fire hydrant who has been compared with former Houston Astro star Jim (Toy Cannon) Wynn.
Twins Traveling Secretary Mike Robertson was getting worried. Puckett’s plane from Portland, Maine, where the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens played Sunday, was due at Los Angeles International Airport soon after 1 p.m. With the hour drive south to Orange County, the righthanded hitter was long overdue.
At 6:10, Puckett, carrying his equipment bag, raced through the door.
“I got to get some money, man,” he said to Robertson. “I got to pay the cab.”
“I had to take one,” he said later, apologetically. “It was eighty-three dollars . . . I was stunned.”
|The box score from Puckett’s first game in the majors. |
He first got the bad financial news as he was driving along the freeway. He first heard $74. But when he realized it was so late he couldn’t stop at the hotel, he told the cabbie to proceed straight to Anaheim Stadium.
“He said, `Since you’re not going right to the Hyatt, I’ll have to charge you more,’ ” Puckett reported.
It was a ridiculously fitting end to a ridiculously tiring day. The no-necked native Chicagoan, who was hitting .270 with eight stolen bases in the International League, began his day at 5:30 a.m., Eastern time, or 2:30 a.m. California time. He made it to Atlanta from Maine just fine, but when he switched planes, the new aircraft, bound for Los Angeles, had to have its windshield changed.
“Twice,” Puckett said. He was delayed four hours. “They said it was cracked . . . and the defroster didn’t work . . . I couldn’t believe it.
“Nice start, huh?”
Not really. There was no start at all. Gardner decided Puckett was too tired to play. Darrell Brown started instead.
“I think,” said Gardner, “the kid needs a rest.”