February 21, 2016

Nick Punto, the most celebrated utility infielder in Major League Baseball history, retires

Nick Punto, he of the shredded jersey, the head-first slide into first base, the “piranhas” and who spent seven of his 14 seasons in baseball with the Twins, announced his retirement last week.

Punto leaves the game with a career batting average of .245. It hardly matters, though, because Punto endeared himself to teammates, fans and the media for everything but his hitting. Punto was better known for his defensive skills, the sacrifice hit and the other finer points of small ball.

Nick Punto is, without question, a first ballot Hall of Scrappy Utility Guy Types Who Play Way Longer Than You Ever Thought They Would’ve-Er

— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) February 18, 2016

His best year offensively came in 2006 with the Twins when he hit. 290 over 135 games, helping the team reclaim the AL Central title after the Chicago White Sox had won it (and the World Series) in 2005.

It was during 2006 that the cult of Nick Punto was born after White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen praised the Twins and singled out three players: Punto, Jason Bartlett and Jason Tyner.

Guillen called them the “piranhas.”

“Let them go compete against someone else,” Guillen said. “The way they pitch, watch out. This team beats you so many ways. You wake up, they look like little piranhas. All of a sudden, you wake up (looking at left arm), you ain’t got no meat — all those little piranhas. A blooper here, a blooper there, beat out a ground ball then the first baseman hits a home run. Then they’re up by four. How the heck are they up by four? Then you’re down four with that pitching staff, that bullpen? Sit down and look at the lineup. Those little piranhas.”

As soon as Punto’s retirement hit the news, a surprising number of news outlets weighed in on the career of the utility infielder.

MLB Trade Rumors:

Punto brought plenty of speed to the table, as evidenced by his 104 career steals, and he was known for his competitive nature and hard-nosed style of play, which earned him his nickname: the shredder. That attitude and his brilliant defense helped Punto to earn more than $23 million in his playing career.

Bleacher Report:

While not a household name during his playing days, Punto was a player that every team loved to have on the 25-man roster. It’s why he managd to stick around for 14 seasons with the A’s, Phillies, Twins, Cardinals, Red Sox and Dodgers.

Twinkie Town:

Punto was a very good defender at second, third and shortstop, posting positive value at all three positions through the course of his career. In an era where new school metrics were permeating the baseball landscape his offense sometimes made him an easy scapegoat, but his attitude and place of obvious favor with ex-manager Ron Gardenhire gave Punto his own place with Twins fans.

Leave it to the bloggers to find all the joy in Punto’s career, while the Star Tribune (c’mon guys!) finds less to celebrate:

Punto batted .248 in 2,707 plate appearances for the Twins, with a .323 on-base percentage and a .324 slugging percentage. His career numbers were .245/.323/.323 and he appeared in the postseason five times. We lost count of one thing that set him apart from most players, a disproportionate number of head-first slides into first base.

At least the Strib found this video:

Farewell, Nick:

Baseball people if you are bored do yourself a favor and watch game 7 of the 1991 World Series. I just did it again for the 15th time.

— Nick Punto (@Shredderpunto) July 6, 2015

COMMENTS

Hi, I’m Rolf Boone and I love the Twins.

I became a fan of the Minnesota Twins after a friendly wager in the early 1980s. I survived Ron Davis, the meltdown in Cleveland, Phil Bradley at the Kingdome and then marveled at a rising generation of stars and two World Series wins in 1987 and 1991. Brad Radke made the 1990s bearable, while Kirby Puckett’s eye injury, exit from the game and eventual death made it almost too much to bear. The new century ushered in more talent — Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau — and consecutive seasons of playoff baseball, followed by consecutive seasons of losing baseball. A winning season returned in 2015. So here we are. Go Twins.