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Mauer’s Myths: The Hero Minnesota Didn’t Deserve

Near the end of the movie The Dark Knight, Commissioner Jim Gordon gives a memorable speech. He tries to explain to his son why his hero, Batman, is being hunted by the police.

Because we have to chase him. Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now, so we'll hunt him. Because he can take it, because he's not a hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a Dark Knight.


Batman is a misunderstood hero throughout much of the Dark Knight saga, much like Joe Mauer was a misunderstood baseball player for most of his baseball career.
Image courtesy of Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
I’ve had some frustrating conversations with friends and colleagues over the last few weeks as it became ever more apparent that Mauer’s career was coming to an end. In fact, Sports Illustrated looked into the reasons some Twins fans dislike Mauer. Let’s dispel some of those myths.

The Money Myth
Baseball’s pay structure is set-up so young players are relatively cheap for owners. At the beginning of a player’s career, they are forced to build up service time and go through the arbitration process. Typically, players enter the prime of their careers near the time they are entering free agency. This forces teams to overpay for a player’s prime and be saddled with a declining player at the end of the contract.

Joe Mauer was overpaid at the end of his career, but he was vastly underpaid at the beginning of his career. From 2004-2009, the Twins paid Mauer $21,525,000. According to FanGraphs valuation system, he was worth $151,700,000 during those same seasons. Minnesota signed him to an 8-year, $184 million contract following the 2009 season. Over those eight seasons, Mauer was worth $126,000,000 in total value.

For his career, the Twins paid him $218,025,000 and he repaid the organization with $307,700,000 in value.

The Anti-Clutch Myth
Mauer will forever be associated with Twins teams that struggled in postseason play. Teams he was on seemed to always run into the Damn Yankees before failing to advance. He famously had a double negated at Yankee Stadium in what became a turning point in the series. However, there are only certain things Mauer can control when it comes to pressure situations.

This season Mauer led all of baseball in batting average with runners in scoring position. He hit .407 in those situations. That’s not a typo and it wasn’t a one season anomaly. Mauer's career .334 batting average with RISP is second among all active hitters with at least 750 plate appearances, behind only Joey Votto at .336.

Mauer was great with players in scoring position and that might be one of the most clutch things a player can do.

The No Power Myth
Mauer was never going to live up to his 28-home run outpouring from his MVP season in 2009. That season was a season for the ages where Mauer cemented his place as one of the all-time best hitting catchers. Even though the home runs might not have continued at a record pace, there was still power on Mauer’s resume.

Minnesota’s team history stretches back to the early 1960’s. There have been multiple Hall of Fame players (Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett) who spent large chunks of their careers with the Twins. None of them have hit more doubles than Mauer. Among all-time catchers, he has the third highest OPS.

The power was there but it just didn’t always come in the form of home runs.

I don’t know if I ever fully appreciated Mauer during his playing career. I understood how good he was but it’s easy to see how he could have been misunderstood after looking back on his career. Casual fans don’t understand the type of value and production he was able to produce over his 15-year career.

He was the hero Minnesota didn’t deserve.

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41 Comments

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SF Twins Fan
Oct 01 2018 08:46 PM
But wait, he wasn’t a leader.... sarcasm.
    • 70charger, jimmer, gagu and 3 others like this
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Wookiee of the Year
Oct 01 2018 09:12 PM

Thanks for this write-up, Cody.

 

I've had it in my head for some time that Mauer is a player who was on a Hall of Fame trajectory at age 27 and then saw that path evaporate as injuries and a move to first base wrecked the back half of his career. But in looking back at the totality of his work and where he ultimately landed, calling it a Hall of Fame career isn't far-fetched at all. Mauer was better for longer than I gave him credit for and I hope he gets the recognition he's earned.

    • glunn, 70charger, tarheeltwinsfan and 6 others like this

I was at the game yesterday. Mauer had to feel the love.

That was really special.

As Wookie of the Year says, he was on a Hall of Fame trajectory.

 

It will be interesting to see how the member of the BBWAA choose to see it.

    • Carole Keller, glunn, Jerr and 10 others like this
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LeatherAntenna
Oct 02 2018 04:23 AM
By my California math as Bert would say, if in 2009 Mauer has just 1 more hit every two weeks that season he bats .400+ for the season.
    • Jerr, tarheeltwinsfan and Platoon like this
Thanks for a well done piece clarifying some long held misconceptions. While I have mentioned this before, I feel it bears repeating. He suffered from Rod Carew disease. I feel one of the reasons so many people fail to appreciate what a rare talent he was, was Mauers rare talent. Playing baseball for him, or for that matter virtually any sport, was so easy that the effects of his abilities were hidden in plain sight. Things other players struggled to do, he simply did. You seldom saw him stumble around under foul pop ups, he simply caught them. Blocking balls, throwing to bases, fielding bunts, picking low throws at 1B were all second nature. There never seemed to be a "Mitch Garver" day behind the plate in his career. I could go on, but I think the best examples of his ease of athleticism was some of the odd plays. The catch behind the screen, the easy way he would backhand ricochets off the limestone, seemingly without looking. All while giving that "Aw Shucks" look. I would think that watching the Twins attempt to replace him for the last 5 years would have cemented his spot on the list of all time catching greats. But maybe the rarity of his talent will take a little longer to sink in. Better late than never.
    • Carole Keller, glunn, Jerr and 13 others like this

 

By my California math as Bert would say, if in 2009 Mauer has just 1 more hit every two weeks that season he bats .400+ for the season.

It sounds easy until you have to do it.

That shows how slim the margins are at that level - Great --> Historic = 1 hit every two weeks.It's similar at other points on the curve as well - AAA --> The Show = 1 hit every two weeks; AAAA shuffle --> solid MLB = 1 hit every two weeks... 

 

It's obviously a bit simplistic and the value could show up other ways (one extra play in the OF every two weeks), but we are talking about the game of the extra 2%.

    • glunn, Dantes929, Oldgoat_MN and 3 others like this

Nice article.

 

But wait, he wasn’t a leader.... sarcasm.

 

Yes -- I always thought a good portion of who was perceived as a leader largely hinged on being verbose when talking with the media.It actually sounds like Joe did more actively take a leadership role the last few years and his teammates do seem to look up to him.I think if you asked them, they would want him back next year. His even keeled -- stick to the routine and focus on the current game -- probably helped set an example that helped prevent the team from completely imploding when they dismantled everything in July.I suspect he was still getting to the ball park early and preparing for the game even when it was apparent that the front office had called it a season.

 

The Twins did a nice job with this video:Watching him put on his catching gear you can see he is almost overwhelmed.  

 

https://twitter.com/...876533313363969

 

 

    • Carole Keller, glunn, chaderic20 and 3 others like this

Joe Mauer the catcher was HOF, Joe Mauer the 1B was not.It is unfortunate that an injury derailed his career, but that is the story of baseball.It is littered with those kinds of tragic stories.Joe was lucky to be able to change positions and continue and he fulfilled a good role with the team.I appreciate him, but I cannot go overboard in praise. 

    • Mike Sixel and ChrisKnutson like this
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SF Twins Fan
Oct 02 2018 07:01 AM

 

Nice article.

 

 

Yes -- I always thought a good portion of who was perceived as a leader largely hinged on being verbose when talking with the media.It actually sounds like Joe did more actively take a leadership role the last few years and his teammates do seem to look up to him.I think if you asked them, they would want him back next year. His even keeled -- stick to the routine and focus on the current game -- probably helped set an example that helped prevent the team from completely imploding when they dismantled everything in July.I suspect he was still getting to the ball park early and preparing for the game even when it was apparent that the front office had called it a season.

 

The Twins did a nice job with this video:Watching him put on his catching gear you can see he is almost overwhelmed.  

 

https://twitter.com/...876533313363969

 

 

I'm not sure if everyone has a subscription to The Athletic but these are good articles about Joe.

 

    • glunn likes this

 

Joe Mauer the catcher was HOF, Joe Mauer the 1B was not.It is unfortunate that an injury derailed his career, but that is the story of baseball.It is littered with those kinds of tragic stories.Joe was lucky to be able to change positions and continue and he fulfilled a good role with the team.I appreciate him, but I cannot go overboard in praise. 

Ahh, Mike....

 

I went back and pictured this post in the voice of Ben Stein in my head and I couldn't stop laughing ;).

 

Just so you know, I don't disagree with you and I don't feel your wrong in any way. Just having a little fun :).

    • mikelink45 likes this

I am not arguing that Mauer was not great for the Twins.

 

However, OPS does not indicate power.His high OPS is driven by OBP instead of SLG%.

 

Fact:

 

Among catchers with more than 3000 PAs Mauer ranks 89th in isoP.Among 1st basemen he is abysmal. 

 

It is not a myth.Mauer was not a power guy.And nothing wrong with that.

    • Steve Lein, glunn, mikelink45 and 1 other like this

Mauer’s first ten seasons in the majors was one of the greatest runs by any catcher in baseball history. From 2004 through 2013 he hit .323/.405/.468 for a OPS+ of 138 and accumulated 42.9 fWAR, three batting titles, three Gold Gloves, five all star appearances, five silver sluggers,and an MVP trophy. (A good chunk of that was written by Sickels, I added some info).

 

Mauer was a FANTASTIC player from 2004-2013.The offense he was able to put up while playing quality defense at the most physically demanding position (catcher) was incredible.

    • glunn, scottz, diehardtwinsfan and 9 others like this

If Joe Mauer is/was so great why is it always necessary for someone to revisit and reaffirm that Joe Mauer is so great? Greatness does not have to be proven by dredging up stats from a 100 column spreadsheet. Greatness simply "is".For someone with so much supposed greatness Mauer had very little impact on games day after day and was in no way a presence on the field when he should have been in his prime. There is no one in the Hall who has to have a list of miscellaneous stats to justify that he is in the "Hall".

Best average with risp. 48 rbi's. Go figure. My guess..a LHB hits a flare to left and a runner on second can't score. Take one "great" season out and Joe Mauer had a nice career as a Major League baseball player. As such he is upper tier of the middle of the pack who ever played the game for any length of time but not among the "greats" who played the game. He stands out on Twins' teams of the past decade or longer because there is no one else on those teams who has even come close to star status unless you count Torii Hunter or Morneau for a couple of years so Mauer had to be hyped while performing at a journeyman level.

    • mikelink45 likes this

 

Joe Mauer the catcher was HOF, Joe Mauer the 1B was not.It is unfortunate that an injury derailed his career, but that is the story of baseball.It is littered with those kinds of tragic stories.Joe was lucky to be able to change positions and continue and he fulfilled a good role with the team.I appreciate him, but I cannot go overboard in praise. 

 

Maybe the Twins can arrange a package deal for Mauer and Oliva. Both, in my opinion, deserve to be in the Hall and would be first-ballot selections if not for debilitating injuries.

 

It would also be interesting to know what Oliva's last 10 years would have been with today's medical procedures for rehabilitation of injured knees!

    • glunn, Dantes929, Oldgoat_MN and 4 others like this

One of the biggest reasons the coterie of anti-Mauer people kept rolling along was because of the never ending contempt spewed forth by one Dan Barreiro, who used his platform on KFAN to consistently slap Joe Mauer around. Of course, Barreiro is one of these guys lost in history who still thinks that RBI is a preeminent stat in determining a player's value, thinks OBP is "cute", and only thinks hr hitters should get the big contracts. but the biggest reason Joe Mauer was the consistent target for his venom was...he didn't go on Barreiro's show and give him good quotes! (guess why Torii Hunter has never done any wrong?)

 

It's a shame.

 

I'm really going to miss Joe Mauer. The gorgeous swing. The doubles into the gap. The sight of him always seeming to be on base. The sneaky good base running for a guy with iffy knees and not a lot of speed (how many base running mistake do you recall Mauer making...ever?). And in his prime he was a wonderful catcher in every respect.

 

I wish he'd gotten the gold glove at 1B he deserved last year, too.

    • Carole Keller, Twins33, Dantes929 and 9 others like this
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RaymondLuxuryYacht
Oct 02 2018 09:26 AM

 

Joe Mauer the catcher was HOF, Joe Mauer the 1B was not.It is unfortunate that an injury derailed his career, but that is the story of baseball.It is littered with those kinds of tragic stories.Joe was lucky to be able to change positions and continue and he fulfilled a good role with the team.I appreciate him, but I cannot go overboard in praise. 

Looking at the player is two separate pieces is ignorant, at best.Joe Mauer, the composite, the entire player, is a HOF'er.

    • 70charger and Nine of twelve like this

 

Looking at the player is two separate pieces is ignorant, at best.Joe Mauer, the composite, the entire player, is a HOF'er.

I'd scratch the ignorant part, but agree with him being, overall, a HOF player.

    • Kelly Vance, tarheeltwinsfan, gagu and 2 others like this
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Kelly Vance
Oct 02 2018 09:34 AM

If Joe Mauer is/was so great why is it always necessary for someone to revisit and reaffirm that Joe Mauer is so great? Greatness does not have to be proven by dredging up stats from a 100 column spreadsheet. Greatness simply "is". For someone with so much supposed greatness Mauer had very little impact on games day after day and was in no way a presence on the field when he should have been in his prime. There is no one in the Hall who has to have a list of miscellaneous stats to justify that he is in the "Hall".
Best average with risp. 48 rbi's. Go figure. My guess..a LHB hits a flare to left and a runner on second can't score. Take one "great" season out and Joe Mauer had a nice career as a Major League baseball player. As such he is upper tier of the middle of the pack who ever played the game for any length of time but not among the "greats" who played the game. He stands out on Twins' teams of the past decade or longer because there is no one else on those teams who has even come close to star status unless you count Torii Hunter or Morneau for a couple of years so Mauer had to be hyped while performing at a journeyman level.


Mauer was the best hitting catcher EVER. 3, count em, 3 batting championships for a catcher. An MVP. As a first baseman he was superb defensively. His timely hitting and quiet leadership was appreciated by everyone who played the game.

I have read many unfair criticisms that defy reality, like "Joe is bad at baseball" or that "Joe is not clutch" This when he led every player in both leagues with batting average with RISP. I think it is safe to say that Joe Mauer's critics must live in a parallel universe.

For me, I appreciate Joe. I am grateful he was a Twin and I have a lot of #7 shirts. I hope he goes for 1 more year.

Critics and fault finders, I suspect that one day you will brag to your grandkids that you got to see Mauer play in person.
    • tarheeltwinsfan, Vanimal46, gagu and 1 other like this

I think calling him a "hero" is the problem in a nutshell. He's not a hero, and I think if people had never framed him as such there would never have been any kind of backlash. Every "hero" has his or her detractors.

 

He is/was a good player. I think he was "clutch" and I think the $ wasn't a real problem. When it comes to leadership, the story back in the day was he turned around Morneau back when both of them were single. But since then there have been no such stories. I doubt he was much of a leader in the clubhouse, though I have zero doubts about his willingness to help people out (and maybe that's how some of you define leadership).

 

Mauer "peaked" at a typical baseball age, but not at a typical age for a HOFer. The question is did he do enough before his decline. I think he did and I don't say that as a Twins fan. As a Twins fan I would say he DOESN'T deserve HOF consideration as he has been so underwhelming for so long, but looking at his peak numbers (and even his overall numbers) they are astounding. This is a rare case where being in a small market might help his chances to get in the HOF. Out of state writers will look at his stat sheet and see a HOF-worthy player without being burdened by having sat through his years of mediocrity on a daily basis.

    • Thrylos, Mike Sixel, TheLeviathan and 2 others like this
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Thebigalguy
Oct 02 2018 09:47 AM
His average with runners in scoring position alone puts him in the Hall of Fame. Add his stats while catching, his .306 lifetime average, and the way he transformed himself into a Golden Glove caliber first baseman and the Hall should be a cinch if there’s a god and goddess in heaven (the verdict is still out). His team loyalty and good citizenship at a time when neither is much in evidence are intangibles that should help the cause.
    • 70charger and Minny505 like this

I'm going to miss Joe Mauer.Glad I was there to witness it first hand on Sunday.

 

In regards to his HOF consideration.I think that he is at minimum worthy of consideration. Just his 9+ seasons as a catcher alone, he is worthy.

 

1st ballot does he get in? I don't think he will, and he won't. JAWS has him ranked as the 7th best catcher of all time. He is only 1 of 10 players to play at least half of his games as a backstop to collect 2,000 hits.He's literally at 50%, but still.And of those 10, 6 are Hall of Famers (Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza, Gary Carter and Johnny Bench).

 

I've never understood the argument that he hamstrung the Twins with his contract, or blamed him for signing the thing.

 

This is my long way of saying that Joe Mauer is the best pure Twins hitter I have seen in my 32 years and I don't think I'll see a better one in my lifetime. That makes me sad to type and I wish I had appreciated him more when I could.

    • glunn, Oldgoat_MN, 70charger and 4 others like this
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twinsfanstreif
Oct 02 2018 11:08 AM
I never understood the Joe hate, he was an amazing player and an all time Twins great, I think people just wanted to blame the post season woes and losing seasons on him which is completely unfair
    • Oldgoat_MN and Nine of twelve like this
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RaymondLuxuryYacht
Oct 02 2018 11:10 AM

 

I'd scratch the ignorant part, but agree with him being, overall, a HOF player.

agreed.that was ignorant on my part

    • Oldgoat_MN and Minny505 like this

Ever since the bunt attempt in the top of the 7th inning of game 163 of a score less game to get into the playoff against the White Sox, I've always considered him more Robin than Batman. 

 

But nothing wrong with being Robin.Maybe he was the hero we deserved.

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tarheeltwinsfan
Oct 02 2018 11:54 AM

Compare Joe Mauer to Sandy Koufax. Both were injured during their prime. Koufax quit after 12 years. His 3 yearswith Brooklyn, which were mediocre, were before his 9 best years. with LA, which were outstanding. Mauer kept playing after his injuries. Mauer player 5 years of mediorce baseball (10.4 WAR) after his best years.. I contend that Mauer's 10 best years as a catcher were so superior to any other catchers' 10 years (3 batting titles by a catcher- never been done before), that they compare to Koufax's 9 best years as a pitcher in relation to other pitchers. Did Koufax, as dominant as he was, ever do anything that no other pitcher has done before or since? No. I admit Koufax was dominant at his position for 9 years, but so was Joe Mauer for 10 years, in relation to all other catchers in the history of MLB. If Koufax deserves to be in the HOF (and he certainly does), then so does Joe Mauer (and he certainly does).

    • glunn, Oldgoat_MN, 70charger and 3 others like this

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