- Baseball Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett was charged Friday with dragging a woman into a restaurant bathroom last month and grabbing her breast.
The woman had bruises, and her ankle was swollen from hitting a door frame, according to the criminal complaint, which cited several witnesses.
The former Minnesota Twins star was charged with a felony count of false imprisonment and a gross misdemeanor count of criminal sexual conduct.
If convicted, Puckett probably would be put on probation and given less than a year in the county workhouse, according to County Attorney Amy Klobuchar. She said it’s unlikely he would be sentenced to the legal maximum of four years in prison and $8,000 in fines.
Puckett’s attorney, former federal prosecutor B. Todd Jones, and Twins spokesman Dave St. Peter did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
Puckett was not expected to be at Friday’s later hearing, where prosecutors were going to seek bail of $20,000. He was expected to be booked formally Monday and his first court appearance probably will be in two or three weeks.
Puckett, an outfielder, retired in 1995 after 12 seasons with the Twins, a team he helped win the World Series in 1987 and 1991. He joined the Hall of Fame last year.
“Like most Minnesotans, I remember watching Mr. Puckett help the Twins win two World Series, and he’s a great Hall of Fame baseball player. But that night, in that bar, he was no one’s hero,” Klobuchar said.
Puckett’s wife, Tonya, filed for divorce in February, about two months after she told police he threatened to kill her during an argument. He denied making such a threat, and prosecutors didn’t charge him. The Pucketts reached a tentative settlement this month.
I obviously can’t speak directly to the merits of this case, but it certainly appears that Kirby has been having personal problems, perhaps with adjusting to life after baseball. I’m not sure how I would handle having my Hall of Fame carreer cut short by glaucoma, without which he might still be playing.
I am quite certain that close followers of the dreaded Twins have a better handle on the real state-o-Kirby than I do. But, I do have one Puckett experience to relate, one which has made me a bit skeptical of the general canonization of Puckett throughout the baseball world.
In 1992 I did some onsite producing for ESPN: all that means is I showed up where they told me to go, asked the questions they told me to ask of whom they told me to ask them, while a camera crew recorded the athlete I was talking to. I did a few Cavs games, a CSU game, a few other something-or-others, but the coolest interviews I did were with a few of the Twins while they were warming up before a game against the then hapless Indians at the old Cleveland stadium.
So there I was sitting in a chair near home plate with players tossing balls all around me. The Twins had been having some pitching problems and I was questioning the catcher, little Lenny Webster, on why John Smiley and Scott Erickson weren’t performing up to snuff. He said some noncommittal baseball blah blah blah about finding their rhythms and “coming around” and whatnot.
Then I talked to a somewhat hostile, and large, Erickson, who didn’t much want to hear that he wasn’t being all he could be, and who definitely didn’t want to discuss that his velocity seemed to be down (no public radar guns in stadiums then), nor that he might be injured. Erickson had gone 20-8 in ’91 – he ended up at 13-12 in ’92, so this wasn’t an empty line of questioning.
Next I talked to Smiley, who was less articulate but much more pleasant than Erickson. Somewhat amazingly, Smiley had also gone 20-8 the year before (for the Pirates) and had talied off some (though he ended up at a very respectable 16-9 in ’92). He was forthcoming about nagging injuries and the change in leagues holding him back a bit – a very stand-up guy. I really felt for him when a severely broken arm cut short his career in 1997.
As my conversation with Smiley was ending, I noticed Kirby Puckett rather flamboyantly mock-pitching to Webster. I also noticed I was in the line of fire should Puckett misdirect one. The interview ended, I thanked Smiley and turned around to pick up my chair.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Puckett, and his enormous flank, wind up and uncork a screamer in the dirt. Webster barely touched it as it skimmed the grass just to the left of the third base line and hit me smack in the right forearm. It hit so hard I thought my arm was broken – immediately there was swelling and an expanding purple bruise.
Smiley and the video crew jumped toward me in alarm; Webster ran toward me apologizing; Puckett just stared at me with a strange half-smile on his face, shook his head and walked away to the outfield. He never apologized, never came over to see if I was okay, which fortunately I was: no breaks, no permanent damage, but damn did it hurt. After several slaps on the back and words of encouragement, practice was over and that was that.
One encounter does not justify an overly harsh judgment – maybe he was having a bad day – but the recent bad news fits my image of Kirby Puckett much more closely than the happy-go-lucky friend to all men and dogs of his media persona. Kirby Puckett was a great player and I’m sorry his career was cut short, but I’m much more sorry for John Smiley.