MINNEAPOLIS — I have an idea that’s going to make me a lot of money. A Kirby Puckett Doll. Great for kids. Pull the cord, it jumps over the crib. Here’s the plan. We make it small. Like Kirby. A shaved head. Like Kirby. We give it muscles, and a Santa Claus smile. Like Kirby. Then we open shop outside the Metrodome. Sell from a table. Ten bucks a crack. I figure a million by New Year’s. More if the Twins win the World Series. Everyone in town will buy one. Maybe two. Barbie and Ken. Cabbage Patch Kids. Kirby Dolls. My idea.
“What do you think?” I ask Puckett himself, who ignited the Twins’ six-run fourth inning in Sunday’s Game 2 against the Cardinals.
“I don’t know, man. . . .” he says, laughing.
I know. This is what I know: There is cute, there is macho, and there is Kirby Puckett. Kids wanna hug him. Grandmas want to cuddle him. And men stay away from him, because he could smash their faces. Is this guy made for marketing, or what? The perfect package. Isiah Thomas in Sylvester Stallone’s body.
“Actually, I always wanted to be taller,” he admits, talking quickly, almost breathlessly, as is his custom. “They say you stop growing at 21, and the day I turned 21 I expected to shoot up and it didn’t happen! And I said, well, thank God I’m at least 5-foot-8.”
“Is that your correct height?” a reporter asks, jotting in his notebook.
‘Why? Do I look taller?” says Kirby.
Well. No. Not really. He’s small; numbers aren’t But tall is not important here. What counts is style, talent, popularity. And Puckett, 26, is loaded. Did you hear the crazy Metrodome fans when he comes to bat? “KIRRR-BY! KIRRR-BY! KIRRR-BY!” They’re not cheering for their health, you know.
This is a baseball player with all the ingredients. Kids like him because he’s small. Athletes respect him because his torso is the size of a Buick. And baseball fans love him because he prowls center field like Nureyev on caffeine and goes over the wall more often than James Bond in Berlin. (On Puckett’s locker is a photo of him stealing a home run from Matt Nokes at Tiger Stadium. His arm is well over the fence. He seems to be six feet in the air. Your first thought upon seeing it is that it’s trick photography. And it is not that uncommon a picture.)
“I’m just doing my job,” says Puckett. Perhaps. But here is the only guy in the Twins’ lineup who gets a 10-second introduction (“KIRRRR BYYYYYYY PUCKETT!”), a guy who weight- lifts, can allegedly dunk a basketball, wears a Fu Manchu mustache, and looks as if he stepped out of a Popeye cartoon; yet he co-led the league in hits (207), cracked 28 home runs and never met a fly ball he wouldn’t chase to the ends of the earth. Popular? Well. Let’s just say Kirby won’t have to buy his own beer for a while.
“Do you get a sense of how much people in this town like you?” he is asked.
“I really don’t know why,” he says. “I just come to work every day, ready to play. I run into walls. I guess they like that.”
They love it. They scream for it. There are people here naming their children Kirby, boys, girls (“a lot of dogs and cats, too, man, you notice that?”). There is even a man here selling “Kirby Puckett Haircuts.” Yes. He runs a razor over your head. He charges you a dollar.
“Did you know about that?” I ask.
“Yeah, the Kirby haircut,” he says, grinning. “You gonna get one?”
“No thanks,” I say.
“Why not? Why not?” He rubs his nubby scalp. “It may be your last chance to look like me.”
Not exactly. There’s always the Army. But then the unbearable truth
But wait. The doll. Let’s get back to that. I’m thinking: Wind it up, 10,000 Minnesotans come for autographs. Wind it up, someone invents a new nickname. Oh, yes. There are plenty of those. With his unusual build — he looks squished, like a heavyweight boxer who had a piano dropped on his head
— Puckett has been called everything from a “bowling ball” to a “Sherman tank with feet.”
“My favorite is ‘fire hydrant,’ ” he says. “I don’t know why. I just like that one.”
His eyes crease, and disappear into happy slits. “Course, I gotta watch for dogs now.”
Beautiful. A sense of humor, too. He made the All-Star team this year. He’s in the World Series now. And this is only his fourth year in the majors. Think of the future. Think of the possibilities.
So why not a Kirby doll? Too hokey? Too cute?
“Too late,” he says, shrugging. “Somebody already got one. Comin’ out in a few months. It’s a bear, I think. The Kirby Bear. I ain’t even seen one, to be honest. But it looks like me, they say. Little fuzzy thing. You want one?”
“No thanks,” I say, glumly.
The Kirby Bear.
But of course.
Why didn’t I think of that?