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Twins Need 2019 Mauer Farewell Season

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October 1, 2018

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Joe Mauer can give the Twins a much needed marketing mission for next season if he decides to continue his career. That is the opinion of a sports industry business analyst that has been close to the Twins organization for years.

The club finished the 2018 season yesterday with an unexpected and disappointing 78-84 record. Mauer, the Twins’ 35-year-old first baseman who is unsure whether he wants to continue his 15-year MLB career, is one of the few players on the roster who sells tickets. The roster is one of the least appealing in franchise memory and Mauer, along with outfielder Eddie Rosario, lead any short list of box office attractions.

Mauer has only hit above .300 once in the last five seasons but the legendary Minnesota-born athlete has won three American League batting titles and the AL MVP Award. The sports industry source didn’t want his name used but he believes there was a period when Mauer may have been the most popular pro athlete in state history.

The source believes the Twins have been contemplating a 2019 marketing campaign built around a Mauer farewell season. “The organization needs to find something to promote,” he said.

The Twins drew under 2 million fans for home games this season. That’s just the second time the franchise hasn’t reached 2 million since moving into Target Field in 2010.

The club qualified for the playoffs a year ago and the Twins were expected to again be a winning team in 2018, but this season nosedived months ago and disappointments were many including awful performances by cornerstone players Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Fan apathy has been apparent for awhile and last Thursday Ticket King sent out emails to potential customers promoting tickets priced at $4 and $6 for weekend Twins games at Target Field.

Fans are frustrated with an organization that has put teams on the field who have produced six losing seasons since 2010, including five clubs that lost more than 90 games. With an uncertain core of players and limited talent, selling tickets during the offseason and next spring will be a challenge. And when an organization loses the confidence and interest of customers, it’s difficult to reverse direction.

During the last several seasons a lot of fans have been critical of Mauer. He’s been resented for not producing more at the plate while collecting on his eight-year $184 million contract that ran through this season. But as the possibility of retirement has become a news story this summer, there’s a sense many fans are circling back to Mauer with affection and appreciation.

Mauer has to decide in the offseason whether he still wants to play baseball. If the desire and commitment are present, speculation is the Twins might offer a $10 million one-year contract. The front office could build a ticket selling plan around the hometown hero if he agreed he wanted to play one more season and receive the applause not only of fans at Target Field but throughout the American League on a farewell tour.

Mauer is viewed by baseball authorities as an iffy candidate to one day be voted into the Hall of Fame. A year ago Mauer hit .305, the only time his batting average has been over .300 in the last five years. This season his batting totals included a .282 average, six home runs and 48 RBI. If Mauer could at least find the level of his 2017 performance next year, it certainly wouldn’t hurt his career hitting totals. Another season would move him further up the rankings for various categories in Twins and MLB history.

It does seem all but certain that if Mauer is to play baseball next season, he will be with the Twins. Asked by KSTP TV’s Joe Schmit last week about playing for another club he said, “I don’t think so.”

There is logic in arguing Mauer will announce his retirement in the coming weeks or months. He was celebrated by fans and teammates yesterday in the final game of the season, a 5-4 win over the White Sox. The former catcher who turned first baseman a few years ago even caught a perhaps symbolic pitch behind the plate during the game.

Mauer has all the money he and future generations of his family will ever need. He also has a history of health issues, and he has a young family who no doubt would love to see him spend summers with them. No, he won’t return for another season just to help the Twins sell tickets, and he will retire if he doesn’t have the will to continue his career.

But that’s a big decision for someone whose life has revolved around pro baseball since he was a teenager. The source who talked with Sports Headliners predicts the public will need to be patient about Mauer’s decision—probably a couple of months. “Joe never does anything quickly,” he said.

Worth Noting

The club’s disappointing record this season wasn’t because of competing in a talented five-team division. USA Today’s MLB power poll last week listed Central Division champion Cleveland No. 6, the Twins 22, the Tigers 26, White Sox 27 and Royals 29.

Outfielder Alex Kirilloff has been named the 2018 Sherry Robertson Award winner as the Twins Minor League Player of the Year and left-handed pitcher Lewis Thorpe has been named the 2018 Jim Rantz Award winner as the club’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

Kirilloff, 20, split the season between Single-A Cedar Rapids and Single-A Ft. Myers, combining to hit .348 (178-for-512) with 44 doubles, seven triples, 20 home runs and 101 RBI in 130 games. Thorpe, 22, split the season between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester, having a combined record of 8-7 with a 3.54 ERA. He pitched 129.2 innings and had 157 strikeouts, with opponents having a .250 batting average.

Wonder how many Timberwolves season ticket holders are unhappy after the organization increased prices and then franchise player Jimmy Butler announced last month he wants to be traded?

Former Vikings All-Pro defensive end Chris Doleman has glioblastoma, the same cancer that killed Arizona senator John McCain. Doleman, in a wheelchair, attended the September 29 tribute at U.S. Bank Stadium for Denny Green, his former coach.

Green’s widow, Marie, is a former flight attendant who is now operating partner of the Drybar hair shop in southern California, according to her Linkedin page.

It will be a difficult transition for Eric Kendricks if Anthony Barr isn’t with the Vikings next season. The two have been linebacker teammates at UCLA and with the Vikings (since 2015). Kendricks says of his friend, “that’s my boy,” but the Vikings might not have the financial flexibility (or desire) to sign his teammate who is a free agent after next season and was beaten on three touchdown passes Thursday night against the Rams.

Kendricks was asked last week about a future contract for Barr. “Honestly, I can’t make comment on that. I can just make comment on what kind of person he is and what kind of work ethic I see everyday. That’s all I have to judge off of him. I’ve been playing with Anthony for awhile now and (he’s) pushing me to do better, and that’s how it’s been.”

New Vikings kicker Dan Bailey is 30 years old and has been in the NFL since 2011 when he joined the Cowboys. In two games with the Vikings he is perfect on three field goal attempts and two extra points. “…I think I am hitting the ball just as well at this age as I was seven, eight years ago,” he said.

Condolences to family and friends of former Minnesota sportswriter Tony Swan, 78, who died last week. Tony spent much of his career in Michigan where he established a reputation as one of the preeminent automotive and motor sports journalists in the nation.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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