Once Invincible, he's now INVISIBLE
MINNEAPOLIS -- Eight months ago, Kirby Puckett was experiencing the highest of highs.
His first-ballot induction into baseball's Hall of Fame was a testament to his good-guy image. Despite his injury-shortened career, baseball writers voted Puckett into the hall because he was widely considered one of the game's greatest ambassadors.
But Puckett has virtually disappeared from public view in recent months after his wife, Tonya, alleged that he abused her and threatened to kill her. Other allegations have surfaced recently, including a sexual harassment claim by a former employee of the team.
Puckett, who denies the allegations made by his wife, will no longer be involved with a pool tournament that raised about $4 million in 11 years for Children's HeartLink and the University of Minnesota's Puckett Scholars program.
He took himself out of the lineup for the Twins Caravan, the winter tour of Minnesota and neighboring states designed to drum up interest in the team. He has not been a part of the lobbying effort at the Legislature to get a new Twins stadium, and his involvement with a Christmas-time fund drive for Children's Home Society is in limbo.
"Puckett has probably done more for Minnesota sports than anyone," said Jon Austin, a senior vice president with public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard. "But if you think of people as brands, this is a reflection of how fragile that brand is.
"He's been held up for many years as one of the true nice guys of sports, but that can change dramatically with one incident or allegations."
The divorce action, still pending, was followed by other legal filings. In March, Anne Potter filed an order for protection against Tonya Puckett. Potter, who owns a limousine service, alleged that Tonya threatened her over an alleged affair with Kirby. A hearing on that matter is scheduled for April 11.
Also last month, Laura Nygren of St. Louis Park, Minn., asked for a protection order against Kirby Puckett. In court documents, Nygren said that she had an 18-year relationship with him and that he shoved her inside his Bloomington condominium.
The two parties "reached agreement" to drop the order before a hearing could be held over whether to make it permanent, according to Nygren's attorney, Brian Sobol.
Puckett, 42, was named the Twins' executive vice president for baseball in November 1996, the year he was forced to quit playing because of glaucoma in his right eye.
Last August, Puckett gave his Hall of Fame induction speech in Cooperstown, Ohio. But even as he spoke, Puckett had problems that few people knew about, including his wife.
Several months before the ceremony, Puckett and the Twins had reached a secret monetary settlement with a former team employee, who accused Puckett of sexual harassment, according to Nygren and others.
Ben Henschel, an attorney for Tonya Puckett, said people contacted during the discovery phase of the divorce case have told his firm that Puckett and the Twins settled with the ex-Twins employee.
However, those involved were forbidden under the agreement to discuss the matter, Henschel said.
Dave St. Peter, Twins senior vice president of business affairs, said he has "no knowledge" of the settlement. "I've heard a lot of things over the past two months, but I have no concept of where that's coming from," he said.
Puckett's divorce attorney, Robert Zalk, also said he had no knowledge of the issue.
Out of sight
Since the allegations, Puckett has receded from the public spotlight.
Veteran lobbyist Sarah Janecek said Puckett's absence at the Legislature and elsewhere has been noticeable but wise.
"If I had the Twins as a client and they wanted to use Kirby Puckett, I'd say that I think that's a horrible idea," she said. "I think people understand human nature and that people make mistakes, but the organization and the issue is bigger than one person, and I'd tell them to divorce themselves from the person."
Austin said: "I'd say it's probably not a good time for either Puckett or the Twins. Puckett should be focusing on his personal issues, whatever they are, that are front and center."
Major League service: 13 years, 147 days.
Earned high school All-America honors in baseball.
1982 Region IV Junior College Player of the year, batting .472 for the Triton Junior College in River Grove, Ill.
Won 1993 Branch Rickey Award for service to his community.
Won 1995 Carl R. Pohlad Award for community service.
Inducted into World Sport Humanitarian Hall of Fame in 2000.
Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.
Inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame in 2000.
Number 34 formally retired on May 25, 1997.
Career rankings in Twins history
Category Puckett Rank
; Batting average ; .318 ; 2
Games ; 1,783 ; 2
At-bats ; 7,244 ; 1
Runs ; 1,071 ; 1
Hits ; 2,304 ; 1
Total bases 3,453 ; 1
Doubles ; 414 ; 1
Triples ; 57 ; 2
Home runs 207 ; 5
RBI ; 1,085 ; 3
Walks ; 450 ; 7
Strikeouts ; 965 ; 2
Stolen bases 134 ; 4
Source:2001 Minnesota Twins Record and Information Book