10 Years Ago Today Twins World Was Rocked And More….

Marc Elliott

THE TWIN CITIES… 10 years ago today we got the terrible news that retired Minnesota Twins superstar Kirby Puckett had passed away a mere 8 days shy of his 46th birthday. Puckett succumbed to the devastating effects of a hemorrhagic stroke, aka a cerebral hemorrhage. It occurred on March 5th, 2006 and after failed attempts at saving him, he was removed from life support on the 6th and passed away shortly afterward. His fiancé’ and children were with him as well as several teammates that had quickly traveled to Phoenix to be with their fallen teammate. The devastating news spread across Minnesota and the baseball world quickly and the reactions were palpable.

In 1984 Kirby came breezing into the Twin Cities on a lightning bolt catching the imagination and love of Twins fans everywhere. His bright smile and positive personality were immediately endearing to fans and media alike. He was the picture in the dictionary next to the saying “breath of fresh air”. He was widely embraced by players all over the league and it would have been a total rarity to find anyone who had a bad word for “Puck”. His daily enthusiasm and sheer joy for being out at the ballpark and playing the game were without equal during his playing years. Puckett had to prematurely retire in the spring of 1996 due to vision problems. After 3 surgeries to try to correct the problems he was having, he wasn’t improving and on July 12th announced his retirement.

This sent shockwaves throughout the Twins organization as well as the 5 state area that considers itself “Twins Country”. As a longtime Twins fan, this was very, very heavy to  me. For several days it was something you just could not fathom. The press conference in effect, was a funeral for a career well played. The two World Series titles, I just don’t have the words. In the years to come we would find out that our hero of heroes had a dark side too. He had had a mistress for years and when that news hit the media, many fans jumped ship on Kirby. They felt a betrayal of sorts.

It wasn’t good news certainly. It was as empty a feeling as the day he retired and as the day he passed away. But then, we found out that he was human after all, with all of the goodness and shortcomings that come with that assignment. It was a fan letdown that rendered Puckett to tragic-hero status. In 2001 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a first ballot inductee. Shortly thereafter the dark side of Puckett emerged into the public domain and outrage ensued.

I think of Kirby now, I think of some of the greatest Twins moments ever, and they came from him. I firmly believe he lifted the spirit and karma of this team too, so that they could become Champions. I know that to be true. And in spite of what he did in his personal life, I don’t think he had a malicious bone in his body. He has gone down as one of the greatest characters in the history of the game. Conversely, his own personal character was put on trial, and didn’t come out so well. Joy and heartbreak can be strange companions and in the end they seemed to come out of Puckett in equal doses….

I HAVE SEEN A TOTALLY interesting story regarding hockey analytics and how they effect how a player is rated by raw data and thus viewed by his peers in the hockey world. I bring this up because of a certain Metro publication whereby I get a lot of my Minnesota Wild news out of, and which also features reader “comments” sections for fans to chime in on game reviews and player articles. As is the case in most NHL cities that cover their local club, there is an accompanying number of fans critical of players from the stars on down to the 4th liners. Everyone is fair game, and while there are a few commenter’s who are fair in their criticism, there are many who just aren’t too objective.

I sometimes try to engage and defend those who I believe are being targeted unfairly with out trying to be too much of a homer, but if a player is struggling, I’m not against pointing that out in a businesslike manner. So, two of the biggest targets on the team are Thomas Vanek and Ryan Suter. And when either one of them don’t play the way some  fans believe they should, the bologna comes out. Enter in some new info that had me leaning forward to read it more closely and laughing out loud as I thought about the amount of grief these two take from fans.

A St. Lawrence statistics professor and one of his students devised what they refer to as “Total Hockey Rating” also known as ThoR. It is a two way player rating that accounts for all on ice efforts by a player, offensively and defensively, aided by some specific qualifiers. They rated 1800 players from 2013-2016 to determine a forward ranking. In so doing the top ten defensemen were also identified and Ryan Suter was recognized as one of the top ten. I understand that Suter is not Mr. Flash back there, but the way he can influence the outcome of a game by his play can’t be underestimated. It is hard to explain to those who don’t know how important his actions are to the team.

Likewise, Vanek was rated in 2013-2014 as one of the top ten forwards at even strength. Now I realize that he didn’t join the Wild until the 14-15 season, but even as Vanek ages and winds down his career, he is a better then a half point a game player and that has value to the team. I am still trying to wrap my hockey brain around the new analytics and stats available, but these are quite interesting. Pens player Chris Kunitz for instance is rated as a top ten forward while his teammate, Sid Crosby is not. Go figure. Put this in your browser “Hockey Analytics-Facts Box”, it’s a short, interesting article…. PEACE

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