April 7, 2002: Kirby Puckett's tarnished image

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN
  • Updated: March 6, 2006 - 12:58 PM

Kirby Puckett's induction into baseball's Hall of Fame on a sunny August afternoon in Cooperstown, N.Y., should have kicked off a victory tour of public appearances, community celebrations and fan adulation.

But eight months later, Puckett has virtually disappeared from public view after his wife, Tonya, alleged that he abused her and threatened to kill her.

Other allegations have surfaced recently, including a sexual harassment claim by a former employee of the team.

Puckett, who has denied the allegations made by his wife in her divorce filing, will no longer be involved with a pool tournament that raised about $4 million in 11 years for Children's HeartLink and the University of Minnesota's Puckett Scholars program.

He took himself out of the lineup for the Twins Caravan, the winter tour of Minnesota and neighboring states designed to drum up interest in the team. He has not been a part of the lobbying effort at the Legislature to get a new ballpark, and his involvement with a Christmas-time fund drive for Children's Home Society is in limbo.

"Puckett has probably done more for Minnesota sports than anyone," said Jon Austin, a senior vice president with Fleishman-Hillard, a public relations firm with an office in Minneapolis. "But if you think of people as brands, this is a reflection of how fragile that brand is.

"He's been held up for many years as one of the true nice guys of sports, but that can change dramatically with one incident or allegations."

The divorce action, still pending, was followed by other legal filings. In March, Anne Potter filed an order for protection against Tonya Puckett. Potter, who owns a limousine service, alleged that Tonya threatened her over an alleged affair with Kirby. A hearing on that matter is scheduled for April 11.

Also last month, Laura Nygren of St. Louis Park asked for a protection order against Kirby Puckett. In court documents, Nygren said that she had an 18-year relationship with him and that he shoved her inside his Bloomington condominium, which he bought several months ago.

According to Nygren, Puckett said: "I just hope you're not setting me up, because I heard you were talking to Tonya. If I find out it was you that sold me out, you're in trouble, girl."

The two parties "reached agreement" to drop the order before a hearing could be held over whether to make it permanent, according to Nygren's attorney, Brian Sobol.

Puckett did not return phone calls for this article.

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`Man of the Year'

Puckett, 42, was named the Twins' executive vice president for baseball in November 1996, the year he was forced to quit playing because of glaucoma in his right eye. That year, he won the prestigious Roberto Clemente Man of the Year Award, awarded by Major League Baseball for community service.

A Star Tribune panel selected him as Minnesota's most important sports figure of the 20th century. In January 2001, he was elected to the Hall of Fame during the first year he was on the ballot.

Nationally, baseball writers and columnists around the country wrote of "Puck" as an everyman superstar who countered the image of many contemporary athletes. An article on ESPN's Web site, written by a Chicago Tribune baseball writer, was headlined: "Puckett is as great a man as he was a player."

A former St. Paul baseball writer, also writing for ESPN, wrote: "While he was as good as any player in baseball during his career, he also was one of the game's great ambassadors, which is partly why voters elected him into Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility."

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