The recent signing of Pablo Sandoval brought up the issue of body type. Panda was not the first player of caliber to be offered a contract, despite having a rather rotund appearance. Kirby Puckett was very similar in stature to Sandoval and also, like Sandoval, quite capable of excellent athleticism.
After the 1991 season, the Boston Red Sox took inventory of just what direction the baseball team needed to go to address long lingering issues of race and the Boston Red Sox.
The history of the Yawkey years have significant anecdotal evidence of an entrenched front office mentality that excluded players of color from the Red Sox. The Red Sox were the last team to break the color barrier when Pumpsie Green joined the 1959 team.
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Institutional racism claims surfaced in a law suit filed in 1985 by former player Tommy Harper.
Harper claimed he was dismissed from his minor league coaching position after complaining to media about team players and organizational personnel attending functions at a segregated Elks Club in Winter Haven.
In Boston racial tensions were still simmering after the school desegregation debacle and the Charles Stuart case. The situation was one where players who were Latino or Black had Boston on their no trade list.
Puckett was at the pinnacle of his Hall of Fame career coming off a 1991 season in which he slashed .319/.352/.460 and won another Gold Glove while the Twins captured a World Series. Puckett was one of the most respected players in the game of any color and was noted for his professionalism and charity endeavors.
The Red Sox put on the proverbial full court press to sign Puckett with an offer that was in the 5/35M range. Reports at the time had Puckett on the verge of signing, but Puckett returned to the Twin Cities area and resigned with the Twins.
The fact that Puckett almost signed did create a shift. The years of exclusion would slowly change to where it is now common to see people of color at Fenway and wearing Red Sox gear. The almost signing of Puckett certainly instituted a perception change for how Boston was viewed.
Puckett never had the up in lights Fenway numbers one would expect of a right-handed hitter of his talent with a career Fenway slash of .296/.329/.412, so it is just conjecture to what Puckett would have produced over the long haul. What Puckett continued to do with the Twins was continue to hit and play an exceptional defense.
Puckett’s career was cut short as the result of a serious vision issue the stopped him at age 35. Puckett also had a rather disturbing post baseball situation with domestic abuse issues. Puckett passed away at age 45, but his legacy to Boston is one of contributing to the creating a positive imagine for the franchise.