Twins’ selection of Puckett began a championship run

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

Kirby Puckett was taken in the first round by the Minnesota Twins in a draft that no longer exists, then returned to his junior college team following the draft.

Five years later, Puckett was leading the Twins to a World Series title and en route to the Hall of Fame.

On Jan. 13, 1982, Puckett was selected by the Twins with the third overall pick of the regular phase of the January Draft. Instituted in 1966 for players who graduated from school in the winter, the January Draft was discontinued after 1986.

Taken with the No. 1 overall pick in 1982 was Kash Beauchamp, who spent 12 seasons in organized ball but never made it to the majors. Following the Blue Jays’ selection of Beauchamp, the Cubs took Troy Afenir, who returned to college before being drafted by the Astros one year later.

Then it was Puckett’s turn.

Spotted by a Twins scout by chance during the MLB strike in 1981, Puckett played his first season of collegiate ball at Bradley University before transferring to Triton Junior College in River Grove, Ill., to be near his widowed mother. Puckett decided to play the spring 1982 at Triton, but then signed with the Twins and reported to their rookie league team in Elizabethton, Tenn., where he led the Appalachian League with a .382 batting average.

Turning 23 years old prior to the 1983 season, Puckett advanced to Class A Visalia, where he hit .314 and drove in 97 runs. After 21 games with Triple-A Toledo in the spring of 1984, Puckett got the call to join the Twins on May 7, 1984.

Flying from Portland, Maine, where the Toledo Mud Hens where playing, Puckett was to arrive at Anaheim Stadium at 2 p.m. for that night’s Twins vs. Angels matchup. He was scheduled to be in the starting lineup.

“When they draft you into the Army,” Twins manager Billy Gardner told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “they put you at the front lines, right, pal?”

But after flying from Maine to Atlanta, Puckett’s connecting flight was delayed more than four hours while a new windshield was installed. He arrived at the stadium at 6:10 p.m. and paid an $83 fare for the cab ride before Gardner opted to let him make his debut the following day.

“Nice start, huh”? Puckett told the Star-Tribune.

The next night however, Puckett showed why the Twins wanted him – collecting four singles and a stolen base in five plate appearances. Puckett finished the season hitting .296 and was third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. He earned the first of 10 All-Star Game selections the next season and also won the first of six Gold Glove Awards in center field.

Then in 1987, Puckett hit .332 to lead the surprising Twins to the AL West title. Minnesota defeated the Tigers in five games to win the ALCS and stormed into the World Series, where Puckett hit .357 and tied Game 7 at 2 with a fifth-inning double, helping Minnesota win 4-games-to-3 and capture its first Fall Classic title.

Puckett would go on to lead the Twins to another title in 1991, and Puckett was widely recognized as one of the top players of his era.

Glaucoma cut short his career after only 12 seasons, but he still finished with 2,304 hits, 1,071 runs scored and 1,085 RBI to go with a .318 batting average.

Puckett was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

To the top
To the top

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series