It was exactly 20 years ago when Twins legend Kirby Puckett announced his retirement, the result of vision problems that had developed late in spring training and kept him out of the entire 1996 season to that point.
Jim Souhan wrote the main piece from Puckett’s tearful news conference on July 12, 1996, including this quote from Puckett:
“Baseball’s been a great part of my life. But now it’s time for me to close this chapter of this book in baseball and go on with Part 2 of my life. Kirby Puckett’s going to be all right. Don’t worry about me. I’ll show up and I’ll have a smile on my face. The only thing I won’t have is this uniform on. But you guys can have the memories of what I did when I did have it on. And I want my young teammates to know right now that when you put this uniform on, you play with pride and integrity, like Kent Hrbek and Molly and Knobby [Chuck Knoblauch], and all you guys play with it. Just don’t take it for granted, because tomorrow is not promised to any of us.”
That has a haunting quality about it now, considering what we know of Puckett’s off-field struggles and his death in 2006, less than a decade after his retirement.
I only had a chance to interview Puckett once, for a story in 2001 about the 10-year anniversary of the 1991 World Series. He called my apartment, and my roommate — a huge Twins fan — answered, then came running into my room freaking out because Puckett was on the line.
That’s just one of the millions of examples of the clout Puckett had — which led, inevitably, to the shadow that was cast the day he said his career was over. The Twins posted a short video with a clip from that day, 20 years ago. Go ahead and take a look:
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) July 12, 2016