Gutman: Twins’ Mauer power

It’s too late in the season to call it a fluke. Every time he plays part of a season and get injured, we claim that over a full 162-game season this would not have happened. But this season it’s happening.

It’s happening in a place where little else is happening. Minnesota may receive little attention because of its arctic geography and weather conditions, its ugly stadium with some kind of a “baggie” in right field (baggies are only good for bringing snacks to school) and its lack of mainstream media coverage. Not to mention the fact that most of Minnesota’s team embodies the term “mediocrity.”

But it’s happening. And it’s the reason the Twins are competing for a playoff spot. “It” is the transformation of Joe Mauer from a good catcher to a legend.

Most casual fans know Joe Mauer is a catcher who performs well offensively on an otherwise offensively mediocre team. They know he is a valuable player. What they fail to realize is that Joe Mauer, who should be a runaway winner of the American League Most Valuable Player award this season, may be the best player of this generation not named Albert Pujols (though I still think watching Tony LaRussa try to pronounce José Alberto Pujols Alcántara would be worth having “Phat Albert” go by his birth name).

The 26-year-old Mauer has battled injuries since his second full professional season in 2006, when he hit a remarkable .357. Mauer had also shown only limited power, hitting just 13 homers during that 2006 season and seven in the two years since. To put those numbers in perspective, former Yankee (he had one at bat in a preseason game) Billy Crystal hit just three fewer home runs than Mauer in 2007.

But this is his breakout year. This is when Mauer goes from a good catcher to the best player in baseball.

Think about the type of season this will be for the history books.

Mauer’s current .373 batting average, if he can keep it up for the final 12 games of the season, would be the highest batting average for a catcher in history by a full 10 points. His .442 on-base percentage would be the fourth best season for a catcher in that department, and the best since 1935. His 1.050 on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, a statistic widely regarded as the best measure of a baseball player’s offensive production, would be the second best in history for a catcher. The only better season was Mike Piazza in 1997, when Barry “Squarejaw” Bonds, Mark “Super-Goatee” McGwire and “Slammin’ ” Sammy Sosa likely saw their stats inflated by the juice, and not the kind that comes in boxes with sippy straws.

So Mauer’s stats back up the assertion that this is a special season. Mauer will not, however, be a one-year wonder. His career batting average is a whopping .327, and he is clearly only improving as a hitter. Mauer, also, will command a massive contract once his deal expires after next season. Only a few teams like the Red Sox, Yankees and Angels will be able to fork over this kind of cash. Think about the kind of season Mauer could have with Mark Teixeira in front of him and Alex Rodriguez behind him. The thought is kind of scary for those of us who root for the boys from Beantown.

This year will be not only one of the best offensive seasons in history, but also the year this three-time All-Star jumps onto the map. Just as all great bands need one great song to “blow up,” this season will be Mauer’s hit. Mauer’s 2009 is Marshall Mathers’ “My Name Is…,” which made Eminem a household name.

Joe Mauer has the prototypical size to be a superstar and has quashed doubts about whether he will ever reach his potential. If he can avoid injuries, it seems likely Mauer will break Mickey Cochrane’s record for career batting average by a catcher, which is .320.

ESPN camera crews and national news reporters had better bundle up and make the trip up to the Twin Cities next year to see the St. Paul native in what will likely be his final season with his hometown team. And all baseball fans should watch the Twins any time they’re on TV next year.

Because 50 years from now baseball fans across the country will be able to tell their children they saw the great Joe Mauer become a superstar, like my dad tells me he saw when Nolan Ryan went from failing to dominant. He’s a once-in-a-generation talent (with apologies to the aforementioned Pujols, who is a similar talent but a different type of player) who will be mentioned with Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Cal Ripken Jr. as one of the game’s greats.

Those of us near an ocean may keep rooting for a Red Sox/Yankees vs. Dodgers/Giants World Series to see the clash of the coasts. But if, much to our chagrin, we’re lucky enough to see a matchup between the Minnesota Twins (now with 50 percent less frostbite) and the St. Louis Cardinals (now without that McGwire guy), we might be treated to the spectacle of a lifetime: watching the best two players of a generation slug it out for a World Series championship.

Collin Gutman is a senior in Pierson College.

Comments

  • Joseph

    To say that Mauer, after this one season will be mentioned with the likes of Babe Ruth and Willie Mays is preposterous. 50 years from now people will not be talking about the great Joe Mauer like a Nolan Ryan. Mauer after all is just a catcher. This one impeccable season is no doubt amazing, but it won’t put him at that legend like level unless he were to do this for the majority of the next decade. If anything Mike Piazza should be considered a Willie Mays like player according to your logic, but he never will be, steroids era or not. Maybe just one of the most offensively gifted catchers of all time. Maybe like Mauer.

    Besides my disagreement that this makes Mauer a HOF worthy legend / best player in baseball I wholeheartedly agree this is a season by a catcher that won’t be matched for quite a while and should be receiving a lot more attention. I sincerely hope Mauer wins the AL MVP for this year as he is quite deserving, but that East Coast bias and superstar focus might hurt him and award the MVP to Teixera or Jeter. That would be a travesty.

    Thanks for shining the light on Mauer’s incredible year and hopefully people will start to realize what a phenomenal season he’s having. Do you really believe that Pujols and Mauer are the greatest players of our generation?! That is quite debatable. Pujols certainly has merits and hasn’t been caught doping (yet), but Mauer already after just one amazing year is a stretch. Anyways, let’s see if the Twins can even pass the Tigers and make the playoffs.

  • Yale mom

    “Just a catcher”??? Really??? Your bias is entirely unjustified. Mauer is the “real deal” and I, along with the author, applaud him and hope he receives all the recognition he deserves and has earned. Catchers are no less deserving of our respect than any other position player.

  • 61ache

    Joseph,

    Just a catcher, never to be in the pantheon of the likes of Nolan, Ruth, etc? Mauer, only American League catcher EVER to win a silver slugger–not Fisk, not Yogi, no one. If he wins this again this year, only catcher EVER to win 3 silver sluggers, not Piazza not anyone. He’s won silver slugger, life time OBP of over .400, golden gloves, is known for his game calling prowess, and could arguably be the greatest catcher EVER to play the game. Period. If this guy wore pin stripes they’d have a bust of him in the home run porch.

    As far as the article “make the trip up to the Twin Cities next year to see the St. Paul native in what will likely be his final season with his hometown team”. Where do you jump to this conclusion that next year will “likely” be his last? First, the Twins will not let Joe Mauer enter free agency they will either a) sign him to a long term contract or b) trade him in the offseason. With loosing players like Hunter and Santana, its hard to believe Bill Smith will fall into the trap of again receiving less then adequate compensation for the “best player in baseball”. Also, not being able to resign Mauer is far from being certain when you combine Target Field, Home Town boy made good, commitment to the organization, Twins certain reality with fan base and Morneau connection of allowing Mauer to walk, etc.

  • MNman

    I agree with 61. All indications as of yet say that Mauer will be a good hometown kid and stick around. He’s proven himself to be a talented, as well as respectable athlete, and I would be a little surprised if he ran off to chase the money. And the Twins need someone like that. It’s been awhile…

  • Ralph

    The author suggests that Joe Mauer will be more than a “one-season wonder” beyond this season. But he fails to mention that Mauer will win his third batting title this season, having won it already in 2006 and last season.

    In 2006, he become the first American League catcher ever to win a batting title as well as the first catcher in the majors to win one since Ernie Lombardi in 1942.

    Mauer moved far beyond the possibility of being a “one-year wonder” before this season even began, having already made baseball history. This year, he will make even more with his third title as Ernie Lombardi is the only catcher who ever won two batting titles.

    Yet it is true that his numbers this season do elevate his status even more. And as the author articulates, you can make a case that as a result of this season, Mauer and Pujols are clearly the best players in the game today.

    Pujols is already one of the all-time greats and Mauer is almost there himself, only needing to actually show up and play for another 2 or 3 seasons to complete his first ballot Hall of Fame resume.

    Finally, I can accept all snide comments about the Metrodome as being “ugly” — it certainly is the ugliest in baseball (but for only another week or so with a new stadium opening). But I reject completely the idea that the Twin Cities are a place “where little else is happening.” If I had to pick a place to live not on a Coast, the Twin Cities would be it (at least for 8 months of the year).