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Jim Murray

Puckett Doesn't Look It

September 01, 1987|Jim Murray

Listen! Been feeling guilty over that second piece of pie, have you? Fretting because your pants seem to be getting tight around the middle? Keep promising yourself to cut down on the pasta? Hate to look at yourself in one of those three-way mirrors? Wince when the sales clerk leads you to the "portly" counter?

Forget it! Eat up. Have another piece of chocolate.

Kirby Puckett has struck a blow for every guy who ever spent a vacation drinking those aluminum diet drinks, or who went into depression because he pigged out on Oreo cookies and ice cream.

A blow? Puckett struck 10 of them. Four of them were homers.

On Saturday morning, the 29th of August, Kirby Puckett, an outfielder for the Minnesota Twins, was batting .315 in the American League with 71 runs batted in, 17 home runs, 157 hits and 75 runs.

By 4 o'clock Sunday afternoon, slightly more than 24 hours and two games against the Milwaukee Brewers later, Kirby Puckett had a batting average of .327, 77 runs batted in, 21 home runs, 167 hits and 83 runs, having just completed the most incandescent streak of two-day hitting since Rennie Stennett of the Pittsburgh Pirates 10 years ago. It was one of the most devastating power displays since Stan Musial hit five home runs in a doubleheader 30 years ago.

Now, you've got a mental picture of Kirby Puckett, right? One of those guys built like a triangle. No waist, no hips, no butt and these b-i-i-i-g shoulders. Looks as if he was chiseled not born.

W-r-o-n-g! Kirby Puckett looks like a guy who never passed up a mashed potato in his life. He looks a little like a cantaloupe with legs. Not fat, exactly, but not your perfect 44-long either.

Puckett makes you feel good just to look at him. No washboard stomach, no lean, lined look on his face. No Marlboro man here. There's a kind of department store Santa Claus look about him. Kids want to climb on his knee. Pitchers think he can't possibly hit the inside pitch.

You're going to love him if he gets into the World Series this year--and he just may if he keeps hitting the way he did over the weekend.

Ten hits in 11 at-bats, four of them home runs and one a double, is a good month for most batters. It's a good batting practice for most batters.

Not since the young Jack Nicklaus or the old Babe Ruth has a silhouette like that commanded the headlines or dominated a field of play.

It's reassuring when you think of all the young Greek gods in spikes who can't hit the curveball and who wouldn't get 10 hits in two days off a batting tee.

When I tell you that Kirby Puckett also made an over-the-fence catch of what was ticketed as a homer by Robin Yount in Sunday's game, you'll think I'm making it up. Kirby pounds leather, too.

The mystery is how he found his way into a major league uniform in the first place. As a player, anyway. You see him in the locker room and you guess him for the third-base coach. You wonder why he isn't hitting fungoes to the kids in the outfield.

There haven't been many guys of his configuration in the big leagues. To look like Kirby Puckett does, you have to be good. When a guy looks as if he'd just stepped off a Michelangelo pedestal, managers give him every chance. Puckett, they recommend the cottage cheese and the Sweet 'n Low, and hide the doughnuts. And send him down to lose weight in Olean.

There once was a pretty fair hitter in the big leagues who looked a little like a moored zeppelin. Fatty Fothergill played for 12 years in the American League with averages like .367, .359, .354.

Once, though, when he came up during a game, Leo Durocher, at shortstop for the other team, called time and rushed up to the umpire to protest. The rule book, Leo argued, held that only one batter at a time could come to the plate.

"Here, you got two," Leo said, pointing at Fothergill.

Fothergill chased him with a bat all over the outfield.

Milwaukee pitchers could have been pardoned for thinking that Kirby Puckett came in duplicate over the weekend.

Puckett, like Fothergill, is a natural hitter. Unlike Fothergill, who only had 36 homers in 12 years, Puckett has blossomed into a home run hitter. He hit 31 last year and, as mentioned, has 21 this year.

Is he a streak hitter?

A writer can recall the former Giant manager, Bill Rigney, who frequently had his tongue halfway through his cheek, admitting that the great Willie Mays was a streak hitter.

"A streak hitter?" his amazed audience gasped.

"Yeah," Rigney sunnily explained. "He had a streak once of 1954, '55, '56, '57, '58, '59 and '60 through '70."

A writer approached Kirby Puckett in the dugout at Anaheim Stadium the other night. He noted that the uniform looked a bit snug, the arms looked like, well, pythons come to mind. The chest was barrelled, the face was round and friendly and wrinkled in a smile a lot.

"Er, ah," the writer wanted to know, "have any managers been after you to lose weight?"

Puckett looked startled. "Lose weight? Why?" he wondered.

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