Twins legend Kirby Puckett suffered a massive stroke on March 5, 2006 at the home he shared with his fiancé in Scottsdale, AZ. Old friend Ron Washington, in camp with the Athletics nearby, was one of the first at Kirby’s bedside, while friends and former teammates including Ken Griffey Jr., Dan Gladden, Chili Davis, Shane Mack, and Kent Hrbek came from near and far to be with him.
Puckett faced personal struggles following the abrupt end to his career. “That’s what really hurt him bad, when he was forced out of the game,” Hrbek told the Associated Press—“I don’t know if he ever recovered from it.”
One of those personal struggles was his weight, which had visibly spiralled out of control. “We would tell him, but he enjoyed life. He enjoyed the size he was. That’s who he was,” Jacque Jones told ESPN from Cubs camp in Mesa, AZ. “You can’t do anything about it until he decides to change. Hopefully, he’ll pull through this, and it’ll be like a call for him to change some things in his life.”
Puckett passed away the following day, March 6, at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. After unsuccessful emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain, friends and family were notified that the end was near. Ten years later Dan Gladden talked with Patrick Reusse about being in the room that day along with Ken Griffey Jr. and Chili Davis—“We grabbed Puck’s hand, we told him we loved him, and Chili’s brother [who happened to be a pastor in the hospital’s critical care unit] offered a great message of prayer,’’ Gladden said. “A few minutes later, they took Puck off life support.’’ (Read Reusse’s full story here)
“There’s certain people that you owe it to, for the things they’ve done for you, no matter where you are,” Griffey told the Los Angeles Times. “He was that important to my family. It was for the things he said to me, not for the way he played.”
Kirby Puckett was just 45 years old, the second-youngest person to pass away after having already been enshrined in Cooperstown. Lou Gehrig was just 37.
15,000 fans, family, and friends including Cal Ripken Jr., Dave Winfield, Kent Hrbek, Harmon Killebrew, Dan Gladden, Al Newman, Ron Gardenhire, Tom Kelly, and more paid tribute to Kirby Puckett in a moving memorial service at the Metrodome on March 12. Mudcat Grant sang “What a Wonderful World.”