Baseball great Kirby Puckett dies
Twins Hall of Famer's death comes one day after stroke
Kirby Puckett was a 10-time All-Star and a six-time Gold Glove winner.
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(CNN) -- Baseball Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, who helped lead the Minnesota Twins to World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, died Monday after suffering a stroke over the weekend, the team announced. He was 45.
Puckett was in a Phoenix, Arizona, hospital after suffering a stroke Sunday at his Scottsdale home and undergoing neurosurgery.
He "was given last rites and passed away this afternoon," said a statement issued by his family. "Kirby's family and friends thank his fans for their thoughts and prayers."
In a statement posted on the Twins Web site, team owner Carl Pohlad said it was "a sad day for the Minnesota Twins, Major League Baseball and baseball fans everywhere."
"Kirby's impact on the Twins organization, state of Minnesota and upper Midwest is significant and goes well beyond his role in helping the Twins win two world championships," Pohlad said.
"A tremendous teammate, Kirby will always be remembered for his never-ending hustle, infectious personality, trademark smile and commitment to the community. There will never be another 'Puck.' " (Watch Kirby Puckett show "anything is possible" -- 1:54)
Puckett was born March 14, 1960, in Chicago, Illinois. (Some sources list his year of birth as 1961.) Spotted playing in a collegiate league by a Twins scout, he was drafted in 1982 and two years later collected four hits in his first game for Minnesota.
In 1991, in Game 6 of the World Series versus Atlanta, Puckett collected three hits, three RBIs and scored two runs and became the ninth player to end a World Series game with a home run on the final pitch, the Twins said.
That home run, in the 11th inning, forced a Game 7, and the Twins collected their second championship in four years the next day.
During his 12-season career with the Twins, Puckett was a 10-time All-Star and a six-time Gold Glove Award winner.
On March 28, 1996, he awoke with blurred vision, caused by glaucoma, and retired in July of that year as the Twins' all-time leader in hits (2,304), doubles (414), total bases (3,453), at-bats (7,244) and runs (1,071).
His .318 lifetime batting average ranked as the highest for any right-handed batter since World War II, according to the site BaseballLibrary.com.
In 1996, Puckett was honored with Major League Baseball's Roberto Clemente Man of the Year Award, and the following year his jersey number, 34, was retired by the Twins. In 2000, Puckett was selected to the Twins' 40th Season Anniversary All-Time Team and inducted into the Twins' Hall of Fame.
In 2001, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on his first try, becoming the third-youngest living electee in baseball history behind Sandy Koufax and Lou Gehrig. He is also a member of the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.
"On behalf of Major League Baseball, I am terribly saddened by the sudden passing of Kirby Puckett," said a statement released by baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. "He was a Hall of Famer in every sense of the term."
"He was revered throughout the country and will be remembered wherever the game is played. Kirby was taken from us much too soon -- and too quickly," Selig said. (More quotes)
Terry Ryan, the Twins' vice president and general manager, said Puckett continued to work for the team after his retirement.
He would show up at spring training, Ryan said, and "sign autograph after autograph. He'd never quit signing until he was finished ... He paid a lot of attention to the kids."
The stocky, 5-foot-8 Puckett was one of baseball's most popular players in the 1980s and 90s, and he topped a 2004 Sports Illustrated survey of Minnesotans ranking the greatest athletes in the state's history.
Tom Kelly, who managed Puckett with the Twins, told Sports Illustrated in 1987: "Something about the guy just makes you feel good."
"I love the game," Puckett told the magazine. "This is fun for me. It was fun when I was a kid. It is now. I didn't play baseball so I could get out of the ghetto. I played because I enjoyed baseball."
Puckett's plaque at the Hall of Fame praises his "ever-present smile and infectious exuberance."
Puckett's reputation took a hit when he went on trial in 2003 after a woman accused him of groping her in a Minneapolis bar, but he was found not guilty.
Puckett's family said in its statement that he wished to be an organ donor. "Medical staff at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center are currently determining if that wish can be fulfilled," they said.
Puckett, who was divorced in December 2002, is survived by his son, daughter and fiance, the Twins said. Funeral arrangements were pending.
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