Twins Didn’t Consider Trading Joe Mauer
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.