A long time ago Ted Williams, major league baseball’s last .400 hitter, played in Minneapolis for the AAA Millers. Now Joe Mauer plays in Minneapolis and, at age 23, in his third major league, there’s talk that some day he, too, may join the sacred .400 club, stirring memories of Williams hitting .406 in 1941.
Earlier in the summer Mauer’s batting average had climbed to .392. He still leads the American League in hitting but his average has come down to the .360s and perhaps by season end he will hit .350 or better. There is no whining about that, particularly when logic suggests the Twins’ sweet swinging hitter, on track to become the first catcher to lead the league in hitting, may sniff and even inhale the .400 level as he approaches and enjoys his peak years ahead.
Grandpa Jake Mauer used to watch Williams, his idol, play here in 1938. He marveled at the fluid swing. He’s been watching Joe since his grandson was an infant. He insisted Joe be a left handed hitter (just like Williams, the “Splendid Splinter”) and he knew when Joe was swinging a bat at eight months his grandson was “special.”
Jake told the Twins when they signed Joe that one day the young man will hit .400. Grandpa is not backing off that prediction. “I don’t think he will do it one time,” Jake said. “I think he will do it a couple times and the reason why (is) he takes care of his body. If he stays healthy there is no limit to what he can do. You will probably see the best baseball player, hitter, catcher there has ever been in the American League.”
Tony Oliva, who won three American League batting titles and now works with Twins hitters, said it’s almost “impossible” to hit .400. He believes hitting 60 or 70 home runs in one season is easier than batting .400.
An interviewer initially made no mention of Mauer to Oliva when asking about the possibility of another .400 hitter. Oliva speculated that Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki, with his exceptional speed and hitting, might have a “chance” at it. Then he thought of Mauer.
“The way I see Joe Mauer is hitting this year, you never know,” Oliva said. “He is only 22 (23) years old. He is going to get better yet. I don’t know how better he will get because right now he is a great hitter.”
Mauer said he has not thought much about .400. He agrees with Oliva that joining the .400 club is more difficult than achieving the once sacred level of hitting 60 or more home runs. “I just try to keep getting better and better and we’ll se what happens,” Mauer said.