by Marc Sweetgall
Problem:

Each pair of presented cards corresponds to a baseball player adapted to the style of the NES game Punch-Out!!. You can see all of the original cards at NES Maps. Each of the puzzle’s cards has had names removed, records replaced with lifetime batting averages, and hits put in place of weight. The cards also have a not-necessarily-unique rank, a unique quote, and 1 KO, all of which factor in later.

First, using the average, picture, birthplace, and hit count, each player can be uniquely identified. The website baseball-reference.com is a particularly useful resource. The players are also listed in alphabetical order to provide some validation.

The quotes shown for each player come from the trash talk that in-game opponents in Punch-Out!! deliver. In the game, there are 13 fights before reaching Mike Tyson, and each player’s quote corresponds to trash talk from a particular fight. Note that three opponents are actually faced twice in the game—to disambiguate, the quote provided for the second encounter with an opponent is exclusive to that second encounter.

While the rest of the data on each card is accurate, the ages on the cards are not right. The differences between the actual ages of the players and the ones provided on the cards give numbers in the 1-26 range. Converting each to letters, and ordering by Punch-Out!! fight order, gives the message PUNCHED OUT WHO.

Each baseball player on the cards was a career position player, but at one point or another was called upon to pitch, usually in a blowout loss. In their time(s) pitching, they each recorded exactly one strikeout (sometimes called a “punchout”) total, which is the origin of the 1 “KO” each has listed. The clue PUNCHED OUT WHO suggests looking into the identity of the batter each player struck out.

Taking the Ranks on each card and indexing into the names of their strikeout victims, when put in the Punch-Out!! order, gives the answer phrase GUNNAR ESIASON.

Generally, it’s a little silly when position players pitch—here’s Nick Swisher, for example—and if a batter strikes out against a position player it’s particularly memorable. If a game is becoming one-sided and boring or the bullpen is empty in extra innings, you should root for a position player to pitch. Maybe they’ll strike someone out!

Cards Player Link Shown Age Real Age Age Diff Punch-Out!! Fighter Fight Order Strikeout Victim Rank Index Rank into Victim
Ruiz, Carlos 55 39 16 (P) Glass Joe 1 Vargas, Kennys 4 G
Relaford, Desi 66 45 21 (U) Von Kaiser 2 Nunez, Jose 2 U
Barney, Darwin 47 33 14 (N) Piston Honda #1 3 Napoli, Mike 1 N
Laker, Tim 52 49 3 (C) Don Flamenco #1 4 Valentin, Jose 5 N
LaRoche, Adam 47 39 8 (H) King Hippo 5 Ryan, Brendan 3 A
Wells, Casper 39 34 5 (E) Great Tiger 6 Cabrera, Asdrubal 4 R
Gomes, Jonny 42 38 4 (D) Bald Bull #1 7 Mitchell, Bryan 6 E
Raburn, Ryan 52 37 15 (O) Piston Honda #2 8 Tuiasosopo, Matt 5 S
Robinson, Clint 54 33 21 (U) Soda Popinski 9 Hill, Aaron 2 I
Swisher, Nick 58 38 20 (T) Bald Bull #2 10 Kapler, Gabe 2 A
Gaetti, Gary 83 60 23 (W) Don Flamenco #2 11 Sefcik, Kevin 1 S
Snider, Travis 38 30 8 (H) Mr Sandman 12 Votto, Joey 2 O
Harris, Lenny 69 54 15 (O) Super Macho Man 13 Mayne, Brent 4 N