Tuesday, June 2, 2009

In The Doghouse: Nick Punto

You don't have to be a real loyal reader to know that Nick Punto has a permanent place in The Doghouse, and frankly I don't see much of a chance for Punto to get out of the Doghouse. A batting title -- maybe. Maybe. The amount of mental and physical hardship that I have had to endure because of watching this pathetic excuse for a major-league baseball player is a large reason why he deserves his unfortunate status. Of course a lot of the blame that needs to be shouldered here is on Ron Gardenhire and the organization at large, who enables this fan's hardships by signing him to a $4 million a year contract and playing him everyday. I can't fathom another team in the majors giving Punto a starting job, not even the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Washington Nationals. Frankly I'm not sure the St. Paul Saints of the semi-pro Northern League would be interested in his services. If Punto were playing in the '50s or '60s, when it was expected for shortstops to hit .220 regularly, maybe then I'd accept his patheticness a little bit more. But even conceding the fact that shortstops nowadays can be perceived offensive threats (Jeter, A-Rod, Tejada, etc.), Punto would be a bad shortstop in any era. He had one deceivingly good year in 2006, when he hit .290, but his OPS that year was still a subpar .725. However, because of his "success" of 2006, Ron Gardenhire has found a way to put Punto into the everyday lineup in the years succeeding. In 2007, Punto had the worst OPS in the big leagues by far (.562, next worst was .621), and currently in 2009 he is at the bottom (.501 OPS) of the league in the most indicative statistic for offensive production. For me, Nick Punto is an abstraction, a symbol for Ron Gardenhire's demented philosophies that have come to define the organization. Punto represents the standards which Gardenhire values more than actual talent: these phantasmal attributes of "hustle" and "effort." These are admirable values, for sure, but they're only worth so much. Hustle and trying don't win you championships alone -- talent can do that. Hustle and effort can get you a place on your high-school team, but aren't the major leagues about having the best and the brightest? Punto is the worst and the dumbest, but he's found a sucker in the Twins, who have taken the bait and spent millions of dollars on this guy that could have gone to areas in actual need (the bullpen, a solid third baseman). It appears that the talent-deficient Punto has a home in Minneapolis, and we as fans will have to suffer through his average defense, his pitiful hitting, and his headfirst slides into first base for at least two more years. I certainly welcome the headfirst slides, as one of these days he's finally going to separate that shoulder. As a human being, Nick Punto is dead to me, but as a Twins fan he is an all-to-present nuisance; he's like that annoying kid on the playground that wouldn't leave you alone in second grade. He's just there, like the swine flu, and like that virus, Punto's overhyped, not very dangerous, and might make you throw up.

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