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The Shredder

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Nick Punto was a versatile utility man who provided the most memorable jersey-related moment in Cardinals history. A retrospective and “where is he now?”

I’ll be honest, when word came down from up high that this week was going to be jersey week, my first thought was not “what awesome jersey style should I write about?” The Cardinals have had many and they are worth attention. My first thought – and this is no exaggeration – was “Jersey’s? Shredder!”

Yup, nearly a decade later, Nick Punto is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about Cardinals jerseys. Today, let’s look back at the former utility infielder; a player who brought his unique cotton/poly blend to the club for one stylish season.

Punto was drafted by the Phillies in the 21st round of the ’98 draft. He managed three partial seasons and a sub-replacement level WAR for the Phils. In ’04, Punto was included with Carlos Silva in the trade that sent Twins starter Eric Milton to Philadelphia.

In Minnesota, Punto blossomed, finally showing the skills that would define his career. In his first season with the Twins, Shredder had an 11.7 BB%. He played 2b, 3b, and SS and flashed excellent defense over just 208 innings. He showed some speed, could steal the occasional base and displayed smarts on the base paths.

Two seasons later, Punto was able to translate those skills into a full-time job. In 2006, he appeared in 135 games, receiving 524 PAs. The BABIP gods kicked in a little luck, and Shredder had his best season — .290/.352/.373. His defense remained exceptional, primarily as a 3b’man.

Punto couldn’t replicate that kind of batting production the next season and he settled back into a utility role. The Twins declined his option after the 2010 and he reached free agency.

It was late January when the Cardinals called, looking for, as the Post-Dispatch claimed, “insurance for the oft-injured third baseman David Freese”.

With the Cardinals, the BABIP gods (or perhaps the pixie dust fairies) struck again. Punto played mostly second for the Cardinals, and in just 166 PA’s, he had a career-high 15.1 BB%, and a .319 BABIP. That led to his highest career ISO (.143) and an excellent slash line for a part-time player of .278/.388/.421. His baserunning and defense remained above average and he provided 1.7 WAR in those 166 PAs.

Perhaps more important than his offense and defensive versatility was another rare talent: Punto could rip a player’s jersey in half with his bare hands.

I can only assume that this superpower derived from some kind of radioactive slime that was accidentally blended into the Provel cheese on his first Imo’s Pizza. (The Cardinals are fortunate he didn’t turn into a crime-fighting turtle. And yes, I know that’s not THE Shredder’s origin story.) This power earned him his now famous nickname - “Shredder”.

When the Cardinals had a walk-off win – and sometimes just because he felt like it – Punto would celebrate by grabbing his teammate’s jersey by the neck and jerking until the whole uniform was in tatters.

At first, I thought the whole affair was borderline sacrilege. Here was this nobody utility man destroying my team’s holy vestments. It didn’t take long, though, for “shredding” to become a defining moniker for the 2011 season, right alongside the rally squirrel, Torty the Tortoise, and Happy Flight. The 2011 Cardinals had as many nicknames as incredible moments.

In was Punto who provided the Cardinals with one of their most well-loved jersey-related memories. You know what happened. Game Six of the 2011 World Series. Cards and Rangers. Bottom of the 11th.

Freese made history, but that history is memorialized by what Shredder did after the play.

The Hall of Fame’s Communication Director, Brad Horn, was present at the game. Somehow, he managed to get his hands on the tattered remnants of David Freese’s jersey to display at baseball’s hallowed hall.

Perhaps the Cardinals knew that Punto’s 2011 stats were as flimsy as toile, or they trusted in the continued development of Daniel Descalso. Regardless, Punto was, well, shredded from the 2012 roster. He would play another three seasons for the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Athletics, continuing his tradition of jersey destruction throughout his career.

Where is he now? Punto retired after 2014. He claims on his Twitter account, @Shredderpunto, to be a “stay-at-home father”. I personally believe he moonlights with a mysterious Japanese conglomerate, known only as “The Foot Clan”, where he specializes in exterminating various types of vermin from urban sewers.