Full disclosure. I did not fully appreciate Joe Mauer while he played for the Twins for 15 years. He was never my favorite player, or even my favorite Twin. I’m not alone. For a variety of reasons that I won’t go into in detail here, many Twins fans were quite critical of their hometown star Joe Mauer. The reasons bordered from fair to ridiculous.
My critiques were not overly typical, and I wasn’t necessarily a Mauer critic. More so, I was frustrated that such a great player had his career altered by injury like my actual favorite Twin and baseball legend from childhood — Kirby Puckett. Unlike Puckett, Joe never took the Twins to the World Series. He never got them past the Yankees, and the various history-making dreams I had for him when he was 26 years old did not materialize.
We as humans tend to remember what has been done for us lately. Our historical memory or lack thereof leads to all sorts of problems, from repeating dark turns in history because no one is around to warn us anymore at the most serious end, to not remembering or putting baseball legends into their proper context until they’re gone.
At 26 years old, Joe Mauer won the American League MVP. He batted .365 to collect his third batting title in four years. He was the first AL catcher to win a batting title, period. He did it three times. In that magical 2009 season he flirted with .400. The last player to hit .400 was Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters ever. Ted Williams, like most great hitters, did not play catcher.
Joe Mauer in his prime was a great hitter, and also a great catcher. For ten years he played the most physically demanding position in baseball, perhaps in sports period, the most important defensive position in baseball and he played it at a high level.
- 3 Gold Gloves (and a 4th one he should have won in 2017 at a second position, first base, where he played the final five years of his career after career altering concussions forced him out from behind the plate).
- 5 Silver Sluggers (the best slugging percentage at your position).
- 6 time All Star.
- 3 Batting Titles (2006, 2008, and 2009, and nearly a fourth one, and a fifth one).
- 2009 American League MVP.
In 2010 — Target Field just opened, I had started law school and moved to Saint Paul, MN , Joe’s hometown, and he had just inked an eight-year, 184 million dollar contract. He was coming off of a batting line of .365/.444./.587 to win the statistical Triple Crown (Batting Average, On-base, and Slugging percentage). If Joe wasn’t signed to be a career long Twin, Twins fans would have rioted in the streets… well lets be honest, they would have been passive aggressive and bought less tickets, making the tough years of 2011 to 2016, where they only had one winning season even tougher.
That year I figured Joe Mauer would equal the 7 batting titles Rod Carew won, collect 2,800 hits and only miss out on 3,000 because he is a catcher, hit 250 home runs because I just recently witnessed his power emerge with 28 home runs, and retire with a career batting average of .335 or .340 (he still retired with one of .306). I thought he would have another year where he made a run at .400 as well, and perhaps he’d appear in or win a World Series like Kirby Puckett did. Joe wasn’t clutch they said. But what is clutch? He actually led the league in batting average with runners in scoring position this year in his final year.
Joe Mauer should be judged on his actual statistics, which are excellent, not judged against the video game statistics we expected he would reach. He should be judged as a catcher, because that’s what he was for the vast majority of his career and that was his position during his best seven years. Joe’s best seven years match up against nearly every catcher in history that has made the Hall of Fame. He got on base 40 percent of the time six times in his career. Do you know how many other catchers did that? Zero.
In 2017 Joe had a bit of a resurgence batting above .300 for the first time in four years. I was hoping it was a sign that he was permanently recovered from concussions. But as we are learning more and more about brain science, it did not work out that way.
Joe made the right decision for himself, and his family. He could’ve kept playing. He is a great defensive first baseman, still gets on base at a solid clip, was finally being utilized correctly in the batting order by leading off, still taking professional at-bats, and still quietly leading the clubhouse with perhaps the most enduring trait that I’ll remember about him — character. The older I get, and the crazier things get in this country, the more I value character. Joe had it. He is the perfect ambassador for the Minnesota Twins, the state of Minnesota, and the beautiful game of baseball–America’s pastime.
The voters and gatekeepers of Cooperstown would be wise to vote in Joe to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The best catcher in baseball for a decade is a Hall of Famer. Period. Historic things are the markings of a Hall of Famer, and the days of analytics and saber-metrics have put the arbitrary indicators of 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, a bunch of RBI’s, etc. into history. As more baseball writers retire and more saber-metric writers get a say in who gets in, and most important, as time passes to put Joe’s career into its proper context.
He was so much more than just a singles hitter (he got on base all the time in an era of increasing strike outs, and hit tons of doubles too, and in general was a very strategic and professional hitter).
I know… people like the home runs, and the strikeouts, and all of those exciting things. In our post-factual society, they prefer the Greatest Show on Earth, to the steady, dependable, and sometimes, the boring.