Joe Mauer played his entire big league career with his hometown Minnesota Twins. He had a spectacular run, and Saturday the Twins organization and adoring fans will honor him at Target Field with Joe Mauer Day and retire his No. 7 uniform number.
But more than once during his 15-year career it was fair to wonder if he might play for another club. After his 2009 American League MVP season, he was within a year of free agency. Mauer watchers speculated the big budget Boston Red Sox, with a home hitting paradise in Fenway Park, could be the next stop for the Minnesota native, who already was a three-time batting champion at age 26. However, Mauer accepted a $23 million per season, eight-year deal in 2010 from the Twins that carried him through the end of his career.
Eventually, as his skills diminished, it seemed plausible either Mauer or the Twins might initiate discussions about moving on to another club. Joining a contender could put Mauer in the first World Series of his career. The Twins could create payroll flexibility by unloading his huge salary.
Did the baseball department ever come to club president Dave St. Peter and suggest a trade? “No, that was never part of the dialogue with Joe,” St. Peter told Sports Headliners this week. “We knew Joe wanted to be in a Minnesota Twins uniform and we wanted Joe to be in a Minnesota Twins uniform.”
St. Peter has been the team president since 2002, and Mauer arrived in the majors in 2004 after Minnesota made him baseball’s overall No. 1 draft pick in 1999. St. Peter and others in the organization have never looked back on the big contract that started in 2011 and helped fill Target Field in its opening years.
“The reality of it is Joe earned that contract,” St. Peter said. “People don’t talk about what Joe earned the first several years in a Twins uniform…(when) he wasn’t making $23 million. I am one that believed that over the course of time we got our value out of Joe Mauer. And Joe earned every penny that he made.”
In addition to Mauer’s three batting titles and MVP Award, he was named to six American League All-Star teams, earned five Louisville Slugger Awards and three Rawlings Golden Glove Awards. He is also the only American League catcher ever to win a batting title. But in four of his last five seasons, he hit under .300 and that brought down his career average to .306.
At 6-foot-5, Mauer was tall by catcher standards, the position he played for most of his Twins career before switching to first base. When Twins historian Dave Mona was asked this week about a favorite Mauer memory he recalled a game when Mauer was behind the plate and the baseball bounced off the backstop. “Without essentially looking,” Mona said, the Twins’ catcher reached back with his glove and caught the ball on the fly.
“I watched that replay a hundred times, and still I don’t understand how an individual can do what he did,” said the longtime WCCO Radio sports talk host. “I think we lose sight of how athletic he was. Look at some of the catches he made on foul tips in the first couple of years, the diving catches. …He brought athleticism to a new height among catchers, for sure.”
Minnesotans saw Mauer’s athletic prowess in high school at Cretin-Derham Hall. He was so accomplished as a baseball, football and basketball player, his name comes up on anyone’s short list of the state’s greatest prep athletes ever.
Call it luck or divine intervention, Mauer was drafted by the Twins, the team that played in the Metrodome—just a long bicycle ride away from his St. Paul home. In Mauer’s first several years with the Twins he became the ultimate hero with his extraordinary play on the field and the national acclaim (including Sports Illustrated cover boy) that it earned. The Twins won division titles and club promoters even staged Joe Mauer Sideburns Night when fans received fake sideburns to emulate the look of their “Baby Jesus,” as KFAN talk show host Dan Barreiro called him.
Still, the critics often wanted more from Joe through much of his career. Could he be more of an outspoken leader in the clubhouse? How badly did he want to win? Should he be more involved with the fans and more active the community?
“I know the passion he has for winning,” St. Peter said. “I know the passion he has for playing. I know Joe gave the Twins every single ounce that he had. …I didn’t ever question whether or not he was giving us his best. Joe is just a pro’s pro and somebody we were really blessed to have as part of our organization.”
Mauer’s friends and teammates know him for what he is, a humble and somewhat reserved guy. He is Minnesota Nice, a label that fits him and countless other residents of this state. Yes, it’s a stereotype, but appropriate for our Joe.
“He’s been everything that we could have asked for as a player and I am really proud of how he has emerged as a father,” St. Peter said. “He’s got a beautiful, wonderful family.”
Mauer and wife Maddie have three young children. Certainly family played a role in his decision to retire after last season at age 35. He had his share of injuries and miseries during his career, including concussion struggles. Stepping away from baseball to devote much of his future to family made sense.
What will be Mauer’s legacy? He will be remembered as the Twins’ best catcher and easily included on the top 10 list of the franchise’s greatest players. Mona and others know his legacy will also be impacted by whether he is voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
This is a subject of debate among baseball media and passionate fans. Being voted into the Hall is no easy task, and Mauer’s career was somewhat brief, with his production declining fast toward the end. Playing his last four seasons exclusively at first base doesn’t help the cause, but the Mauer resume has many highlights including his career on-base percentage of .388.
MLB.com pointed out in a November, 2018 article that even if Mauer made a comeback and went hitless in 1,050 at bats, he would still have a higher career OBP than Hall of Fame catchers Johnny Bench, Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk.
Mona believes the Hall of Fame awaits Mauer, just not right away. “He will need some backing, but that happens,” Mona said. “People get out there and start to make a case for people (candidates), and you’ve seen people make the Hall of Fame because of that. I think there is a case to be made for Joe, but I don’t think it will happen the first three to five years (he is eligible).”
No need to fuss about Hall of Fame possibilities now, though. Saturday night will be a time of celebration and tears. A time of adulation as fans receive a No. 7 commemorative cap and witness the eighth player in franchise history to have his jersey number retired.
St. Peter remembered months ago when the Twins told Joe how they wanted to honor him on June 16. “He was blown away by it. He was obviously incredibly honored. I don’t think it was anything Joe ever took for granted that it would happen.“
No, Joe Mauer didn’t play to be idolized but the way he performed and the character with which he carried himself is deserving of the recognition coming his way on Saturday night. The hometown hero is no ordinary Joe.
The Vikings finish spring practices this week and Bob Lurtsema is ready to predict their 2019 regular season total number of wins.
The former Viking defensive lineman remains a close observer of the team. He is known for his accurate predictions about the Purple including a late April projection Minnesota would use its first round draft selection on North Carolina State center Garrett Bradbury.
What does Lurtsema see in his crystal ball for 2019? “Ten (wins) will be easy,” he told Sports Headliners. “Of course, it’s never easy, but you got your second-year with (quarterback Kirk) Cousins coming in there. I am guaranteeing 10.
“I look at it more toward the 11 mark than I do the nine mark because it takes a year for a quarterback to get in sync with his receivers. Not too many quarterbacks…(can get on) the same page like that.”
Lurtsema expects to see a revised Vikings offense featuring plenty of play-action passes to take pressure off Cousins, and also a much improved running game. The Vikings ranked No. 30 in rushing yards among NFL teams last season. “You’ve got to have a running game,” Lurtsema said.
A productive offensive line is part of the formula. Lurtsema approves of adding Bradbury and switching Pat Elflein, last season’s starting center, to guard. Overall, Lurtsema doesn’t see the offensive line unit as a weakness.
“It won’t be below par,” Lurtsema said after being asked to rate the o-line. “It will go up a little bit (from last year). Different coaches are coming in, a little more play action, (and also) how they are going to have their blocking schemes (revised).”
The Vikings disappointed last year, failing to make the playoffs after nearly qualifying for the Super Bowl the prior postseason. The team flopped in the final game, letting a potential win over the Bears get away, when the victory would have sent Minnesota to the postseason.
The Vikings’ effort wasn’t good enough against the Bears. “Had we won the last quarter…of that game we were in the playoffs, and they didn’t pick it up a notch,” Lurtsema said.
Will the Vikings be in the playoffs after the 2019 season? “Of course, I guarantee it because they learned so much from that (Bears game),” Lurtsema answered. “Coach (Mike) Zimmer even said some negative things in the paper about his players not picking it up that notch.”
Lurtsema emphasized that what championship teams do is deliver peak performance at the most meaningful times. Maybe the Vikings can fall in that category in 2019. Observers see a “chip on the shoulder” attitude coming out of spring practices led by a self-described grumpy head coach in Zimmer.
Zimmer has long been known for his defensive coaching IQ, but the Vikings slipped on that side of the ball last season, too. Word was other teams made adjustments to the defense’s way of doing things. Now Zimmer is adjusting in the offseason. “He has to,” said Lurtsema, who from the start has been a Zimmer admirer.
With Mike McCarthy having been replaced by the Packers in the offseason, Zimmer, now in his sixth season with the Vikings, is the senior head coach in the NFC’s North Division. McCarthy lasted 13 seasons with the Packers.
Kevin Warren, the Vikings Chief Operating Officer who will become the sixth commissioner in Big Ten Conference history next year, is licensed to practice law in Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota and the District of Columbia. USA Today reported seven days ago that outgoing commissioner Jim Delaney will receive about $20 million in future bonuses.
Who replaces Warren as the organization’s lead executive for the business side of operations? Speculation about internal candidates could include executive vice presidents Lester Bagley, Steve LaCroix and Steve Poppen. Vikings real estate expert Don Becker doesn’t live in Minnesota but his name could come up in conjecture regarding Warren’s replacement.
It only takes a glance at the 2020 ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame to be reminded that too few of the best prep football players from the state continued their careers at the University of Minnesota. On the ballot are two former Minneapolis area great players—wide receiver Marcus Harris who won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s premier receiver at Wyoming, and James Laurinaitis, three time All-American linebacker at Ohio State.
State legend Joe Mauer speaks to the Twin Cities Dunkers group on July 16. The Dunkers have been hearing from sports and other newsmakers since 1948.
Prep finalists for the Mr. Baseball and Ms. Softball awards have been announced with the winners to be named at a June 23 banquet at Target Field. Baseball finalists are Will Anderson, St. Michael-Albertville; Will Frisch, Stillwater; Drew Gilbert, Stillwater; Adam Mazur, Woodbury; Ben Pedersen, Marshall (Duluth); Trent Schoeberi, White Bear Lake; Evan Shaw, Fridley. Softball finalists are McKayla Armbruster, Faribault; Claire Bakkestuen, Forest Lake; Holly Blaska, Champlin Park; Tori Chute, Stillwater; Ava Dueck, Maple Grove; Olivia Hazelbaker, Farmington; Brianna Olson, Park of Cottage Grove.
Hollis Cavner runs the 3M Open and just like other Minnesota golf fans he’s anxious to know whether Tiger Woods will play in the new PGA Tournament July 1-7 at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine.
“He does not tell anybody until the Friday before,” Cavner said in an interview with Sports Headliners. “He never commits. It’s just the way he is, except for the majors. He commits to the majors. It’s brutal having to wait.”
Cavner has a home in Jupiter, Florida. That is the area where the 43-year-old Woods, who has earned a spot on “golf’s Mount Rushmore,” also resides. The Woods is the name of Tiger’s restaurant in Jupiter where Cavner is a customer.
“Go to The Woods and you run into Tiger quite a bit,” Cavner said. “He’s…very friendly (and) says ‘hi’ to everybody. It’s kind of cool to go to his restaurant and see him.”
Of course, Cavner’s patronage of the restaurant and friendly relationship with Woods won’t guarantee an appearance at TPC Twin Cities. The 15-time majors champ has long been unpredictable as to the tour events he stops at and with a history of physical issues he can be more selective than ever now while choosing to focus on the biggest of challenges like The Masters which he won in April.
The 3M Open already has commitments from some of golf’s biggest names including Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson. Koepka is the No. 1 player in the world, having won four majors in less than two years and setting scoring records.
“It’s incredible,” Cavner said. “There’s a ton of buzz about Koepka. He’s a phenomenon. You think about it, nobody has done what he has done (of late). The only person who has done anywhere close to that is Tiger.”
Mickelson at almost 49 years old is in the late stages of a brilliant career that includes winning five majors. He will be a favorite to watch along with players such as Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Day and Patrick Reed. Minnesotans Tom Lehman and Tim Herron will also participate.
The 3M Open replaces the 3M Championship, the senior tournament played for years at TPC Twin Cites. Cavner, whose Pro Links Sports company manages PGA Tournaments and corporate golf events, said the course setup at TPC will be much more challenging than in the past when the 3M Championship was planned as “a birdie fest.”
“This is going to be set up a lot more difficult,” Cavner said. “A lot longer.”
3M Open organizers are looking for birdies but also “train wrecks,” Cavner said. There are going to be par fours of over 500 yards and also water challenges.
What about the greens? Cavner predicted they will be solid for putting. “I think we have the best greens around,” he said.
There was no spectator admission charge for the 3M Championship but there is for the new tournament. Yet, Cavner predicts attendance will double the old tournament total, with the final number of fans expected to be in the 180,000 to 200,000 range. Whether Woods plays, of course, will be a significant factor.
Cavner said some ticket packages are sold out and he estimated the total presale at 25,000 to 30,000. His staff has been working for months in organizing details for the 3M Championship.
The work and scope of the new tournament dwarfs Minnesota’s past pro golf experience. Cavner said his staff is working “daylight to dark” with arrangements for the 3M that will command over 46 hours of live TV coverage on the Golf Channel and the CBS Network, plus international coverage.
“I laughed about it the other day. Last year the media center for the 3M Championship was the size of where we feed the media this year,” Cavner said. “Our media center is four times the size (of last year).”
Cavner has a seven year commitment from the PGA for the 3M Open that can prove again Minneapolis-St. Paul is an exceptional golf town after wowing media and players with support of past events like the Ryder Cup and PGA Championship. (Up next is the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship that begins June 18 at Hazeltine National.)
For Cavner, who was behind the Minnesota senior stop that started almost 30 years ago, these are exciting times. “I think this will probably be the most excitement of any of our events just because of how long it took to put it together, and it’s 28 years now. We’re very excited.”
Just imagine how excited Cavner will be if he receives good news from Tiger on Friday, June 28—just days before the tournament starts.