Remember in the mid-2000s, when the Twins were the unquestioned class of the American League Central Division? Those were the days. A string of division titles, some of the best, young, high-end talent in the game, and a group of players who would never get old and play forever.
Nick Punto is the fourth Twins player from this period to retire since the close of the 2015 season. He joins Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, and LaTroy Hawkins in the Undying Lands, where the grass is e'rgreen.
Punto came to the Twins in December of 2003, joining Carlos Silva and Bobby Korecky in Minnesota with Eric Milton heading to the Phillies. But the Twins had always liked Punto, selecting him in the 33rd round of the 1997 amateur draft. He didn't sign, and Philadelphia took a flyer on him in the 21st round the following summer.
In his seven years in Minnesota, Punto hit .248/.323/.324. He had nice seasons in 2006 (.290 batting average, .352 on-base percentage) and 2008 (.284 and .344), but otherwise he was never in the lineup for what he did at the plate. 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.
With that in mind, here are just a few of the things we've had to say about Nick Punto over the years.
SHERM PETTERSON (manager, Gulf Coast League Phillies, 1998): Punto shows up the first day in this tricked-out Corolla, does donuts in the parking lot until he T-bones a dumpster. Both of ‘em start on fire and people start calling 911, but Nick, he kicks out the passenger side window, does a barrel roll out of it, and says "Let's play! Let's play! Woooo!" Damnedest thing I ever saw.
A whole series of these...
"The weird part is, there's no dirt out there. None. And (Punto) gets up, and he's coveredin dirt. Filthy. He brushed himself off, slammed two Monster energy drinks, and slid headfirst into the men's room. Damnedest thing I've ever seen."
"And Hunter Wendelstedt had better watch out, because I'm going to sneak up behind him in the umpire's room and punch his lights out."
"I was just trying to build on the momentum that the ice bucket thing was doing for Lou Gehrig's (ALS)," said Punto. "I wanted to raise awareness of the importance of giving 110%. You gotta give 110% everyday. What are you gonna put in a bucket to make you give your all? Snakes. In hindsight, I realize this was a bad idea for a lot of reasons. It's not what the NPBLSCRAIGAI was meant to be about."
Hello, (MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL TEAM)! So, your offseason plans have led you to contemplate signing Nick Punto. Congratulations on (LARGE MARKET TEAM: looking to add veteran depth/SMALL MARKET TEAM: giving up on 2011 in 2010)! Here is a pocket guide to the care and handling of your brand new Nick Punto.
There's no text to use here. Just this photo.
PUNTO: GETTING A CHOPPEWR
GARDENHIRE: cool, what kind???
PUNTO: DON'T KNOW BUT IM GOANNA GET IT DETAILED REAL NICE
GARDENHIRE: baseball theme?
PUNTO: MAYBE, GET AN 8 BALL ON IT 2 MATCH MY SWEET JACKET, A UNICORN 2 LOL
GARDENHIRE: a unicorn? Chrysler
PUNTO: THERE BEAUTIFUL CREATURES
1:15 - Thread film backward through projector. Knock over desk. Accidentally set scouting report on fire with projector lamp. Accept effusive praise from Gardy for "really going out there and getting after it."
3:00 - Milk break. Sprint to cooler to get to chocolate first.
3:05 - Covered in milk from totally unnecessary dive into cooler. Still worth it.
3:10 - Offered high five from Jon Rauch. Can't... quite... reach... lots of jumping...
Little-known facts about Nick Punto, American Baseball Legend (includes Nick Punto's Footprints)
- Punto once became so fundamentally sound that it caused Jason Tyner to collapse in upon himself, never to be seen or heard from again. Though tragic, there is a silver lining, as Gardy had planned to DH Tyner and bat him 5th in that evening's game against theYankees.
- One time, a clubhouse attendant delivered a clean jersey and uniform pants to Punto at his locker. Punto immediately slid headfirst into him twice. The first slide was for washing a perfectly dirty outfit. The second slide? Just working on technique.
- The only Tom Emanski video that Fred McGriff refuses to endorse is "Ignoring Your Third Base Coach at Just About the Worst Possible Time: The Nick Punto Way."
And finally, just to prove that not everything we wrote about Nick Punto was a joke...
If Punto were throwing up these numbers at second base, we could probably add him to the mix of snubs at the All Star game if it were to happen tomorrow. At third base the expectations go up a little bit (a lot in some areas), which is why even though the 14.7 Value Over Replacement Player is a nice number (third highest on the offensive side for the Twins), his Wins Above Replacement Player is only 1.9.
In addition, over the same time period Saberhagen never posted a winning record in even numbered years, and he never posted a losing record in odd numbered years. Quite the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation for Mr. Saberhagen. While this is not an occurrence with astronomical odds against, similar to flipping a coin 10 times and coming up "heads" each time, 1 in 1,024 odds, for a pitcher of Saberhagen's profile, Cy Young Awards (both in odd numbered seasons, of course) the differences were striking.
The Twins have a similar even-odd situation in Nick Punto.
Just when it seemed the White Sox were about to make their comeback, already closing a 5-0 lead to 5-4, the Twins offense found a way to load the bases. With two out, with the reality of scoring zero runs staring Minnesota in the face as the Tigers bombarded the Indians, and with Chicago refusing to go quietly...it could have been a very bad inning for confidence's sake. And who wants the game on the line with Nick Punto at the dish?
Nick Punto. That's who.
It's sad, but all the greats retire. Somewhere, Nick Punto is still getting after it. He's just not getting after it on a baseball field for a Major League team.
Enjoy retirement, Nick.