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Twins' Puckett Sees Signs to Retire

Baseball: Latest procedure shows irreversible damage to retina of Minnesota outfielder.

July 13, 1996|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kirby Puckett, one of baseball's best and most charismatic players, announced his retirement Friday after the latest in a series of laser procedures on his right eye showed irreversible damage to the retina.

Puckett, who had not played this season because of glaucoma that developed late in spring training, wore a bandage over the eye during an emotional Metrodome news conference, during which he told his Minnesota Twin teammates that he loved them and would miss them but would not appear in uniform again.

"I never took the game for granted," the 35-year-old outfielder said. "I loved it and treated it with respect, but my life isn't over, the world hasn't come to an end.

"There was so much more I could have accomplished in the game and I regret that I won't have that opportunity, but I can still see my beautiful wife and wonderful kids. I can still drive a car.

"I have a lot to live for and look forward to."

Puckett is one of several outstanding players whose careers have been been jeopardized by injury or illness this year.

Among the others are Brett Butler (cancer), David Cone (aneurysm in pitching arm), Darren Daulton (severely arthritic knees) and Lenny Dykstra (degenerative back condition).

In addition, Tony Gwynn, David Justice, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., Larry Walker and Frank Thomas have experienced injuries sidelining them for long periods.

Said Twin Manager Tom Kelly, "I had the good fortune to watch Kirby Puckett play every one of his major league games, and he gave everything he had in every one of those games. I feel badly for the Twins, but I feel badly for baseball as a whole.

"Considering what's happened in the last few years, with labor problems and everything else, the game can hardly afford to lose a player of Kirby's ability and personality. We saw how much he'll be missed this year when we'd go into Boston or Baltimore or New York and fans would have banners for him or would chant, 'We want Kirby.'

"He was an impact player in more ways than one."

In 12 seasons, Puckett was a 10-time all-star and six-time Gold Glove winner who produced a .318 average, 207 home runs and 1,085 runs batted in.

He led the Twins to World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, hit 20 or more homers six times and had three seasons of 100 or more RBIs.

He led the American League with 112 RBIs in 1994 and won the 1989 batting title at .339. His best year was 1988, when he hit .356 with 24 homers and 121 RBIs.

Displaying his characteristically upbeat demeanor, Puckett said he would now pull his World Series rings out of storage and begin wearing them.

He said he was closing one chapter and beginning another and that he hoped to get into baseball broadcasting.

He nodded in the direction of former teammate Kent Hrbek, attending the news conference, and said his immediate plan is "to go fishing with Herby."

Former major league manager Sparky Anderson heard the news at his home in Thousand Oaks and said, "This guy could not only play, but he played the way you're supposed to play. He had fun when he played, but he played to win. I've tried to tell that to so many players--have fun but play to win.

"I had him on a trip to Japan a few years ago and finally said to him, 'Don't you ever shut up?' He said, 'Skip, if I ever shut up it wouldn't be me.' He was a treat and a half, and he put those numbers up every year. He wasn't one of those guys who does it once and goes to arbitration trying to get all the money.

"He was good to everybody, from kids to his manager, and he'll leave the game knowing he never cheated it."

Puckett, who came out of the projects of Chicago's south side, had this year and next remaining on a five-year, $30-million contract. He recently told The Times that he was set financially.

The condition that forced his retirement developed suddenly. He had two hits off Greg Maddux of the Atlanta Braves in an exhibition game on March 28 and awoke the next morning with blurred vision in his right eye.

Dr. Bert Glaser of the Retinal Institute of Maryland performed laser surgery on April 17 in an attempt to improve blood flow, then repeated that procedure twice in June, but Puckett, who took batting practice daily, never showed enough improvement to test it in a game.

Friday's surgery showed there is no hope for improvement, Glaser said.

"At this stage, the retina will not recover from its current status," he said. "He has some vision [in the right eye], but not enough to let him play baseball."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Kirby's Credentials

A look at the career achievements of Kirby Puckett:

Seasons: 12

Batting average: .318

Hits: 2,304

Home runs: 207

Runs: 1,071

Runs batted in: 1,085

*

Shares record for consecutive seasons leading league in hits (1987-89).

Shares record for most doubles in a game (4).

Shares record for most seasons by an outfielder with 400 or more putouts (5).

California League player of the year in 1983 with Visalia.

Six-time Gold Glove winner.

AL Championship Series MVP in 1991.

Named to All-Star team 10 times (MVP in 1993).

The Eye Damage

The damage to Kirby Puckett's eye took place in the retina, the part of the eye that captures light rays and sends them on to the brain. Corrective lenses or other procedures cannot help restore his vision to the level a professional baseball player requires. Such improvement needs to occur naturally.

Blockage kept blood from retina, which captures light rays and sends them to the brain.

Central retinal vein.

Source: World Book

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