The Mauer Thing

I knew I shouldn’t have responded. Really. In fact, if I’ve learned one thing since setting up a Twitter account, it’s that you seldom, if ever, want to “tweet” a response to a comment you disagree with.

There just isn’t much point to it.

First of all, any point worth making can rarely be made well in 140 characters. Actually, you have less, since you have to at least include the name of the person who’s initial comment you are responding to.

So I really did know better. But I felt like crap Monday afternoon and I was feeling a bit ornery. So when I saw a tweet from one of the media types about how Joe Mauer was taking ground balls at 1B during early batting practice Monday, I reacted with what could be interpreted as sarcasm… I believe I used the term “whoopee”… and offered that the time to have been learning to play 1B was in spring training some time over the past few years.

If I had left things at that, I probably would have been OK. But no. It wasn’t long before I saw another tweet come through from one of the better known Twins bloggers (or was is a retweet? Hell I don’t know) that opined to the effect that it was ridiculous the way people were “rushing” to criticize and/or question Joe Mauer.

Now… I don’t think my original tweet was too critical. But I do think some of the criticism he’s been getting is (a) warranted, and (b) a bit of a backlash to the pampering that he’s gotten from the organization, the media and the fan base in general. I’m allowed to think that. Apparently, however, I shouldn’t express it publicly.

I honestly didn’t know that many people follow my tweets, much less bother to read them. Then again, I did dare to suggest Mauer has not been perfect nor a model of consistency, which, apparently, is blasphemous in these parts.

In any event, after 20ish tweets later, pretty much all in response to tweets from others who seemed intent on pointing out that Joe Mauer is above reproach, I finally decided there was no point in trying to continue a discussion in 140 character bites.

After all, I have a blog for that kind of thing.

So, since so many people seem to care about my opinion of Joe Mauer, here it is.

I think Joe Mauer has been a very good ballplayer. I think he’s played a critical role in all of the successes that that the Twins have had over the course of his time with the team, but perhaps not as big a role as a lot of people tend to give him credit for.

I also think he’s played a role in their failures and, in particular this season, he is responsible to some degree for the poor position the Twins are now in… and if some people have been too quick to criticize him, that’s not altogether unexpected. When you (and your agent) set yourself up as being worth more than twice as much as any other member of the team (and more than all but a handful of players in baseball), I don’t think you should react with shock and dismay when people point out that you aren’t playing well or aren’t at least… you know… playing.

Joe Mauer

So when Mauer went on the Disabled List due to “leg weakness” (sorry… that’s “bilateral leg weakness”… don’t want to make it sound any more candy-assed than it really was) less than two weeks after his $23 million/year contract kicked in, is it really so difficult to believe fans (not to mention team mates) might raise an eyebrow?

Apparently, this condition was caused by him not having a full Spring Training to get his legs in shape to catch. OK, I get that. But who’s fault was that?

Who’s responsibility was it to get his supposedly minor knee surgery taken care of early enough so that he could BE ready for Spring Training? Why was the “minor cleanup procedure” not performed right after the season? Why wait until December? This media report was just one where Mauer said he was all about being ready April 1, not necessarily in time for Sping Training.

I won’t be so cynical as to suggest that November was spent traveling around the country making commercials for video games and sports drinks, instead of getting his knee repaired. You may… but I won’t.

The fact remains, however, that Mauer clearly saw no need to be concerned about being in shape before reporting to Ft. Myers and maybe… just maybe… if he had been a bit more ready, his legs wouldn’t have been “bilaterally weak” in April.

Sure, hindsight is 20/20. Water under the bridge. The important thing, once it became clear he couldn’t perform, was to get him fixed up and back with the team as soon as possible, right?

For the sake of argument, let’s just accept that “bilateral leg weakness” actually does take longer to heal than a broken bone and skip to the part where Mauer reports to Ft. Myers for his rehab.

He flew down to Ft. Myers May 18. After a full week of just “working out”, he was apparently fit enough take some swings as a DH in an extended spring training game on May 25. Eleven days later, he had progressed to where he could manage to do the same thing for his brother Jake’s Ft. Myers Miracle team. Then, instead of going up to Rochester, or even New Britain, to face more experienced pitching before rejoining the Twins, Mauer spent the next week and a half with the Class A Miracle.

I’m sure it was nice being able to sleep in his own bed (Mauer has a home in Ft. Myers) and hang out with his brother instead of flying up to Rochester, but am I the only one who thinks maybe getting a look at better pitching MIGHT have prepared him more to face the Giants and Brewers pitchers?

Mauer reminded reporters Monday that he’s only been back a short time. That’s true. But wasn’t he, himself, responsible for getting as prepared as possible to return to face MLB pitchers?

Then again, maybe this is all the organization’s fault.

Maybe the team witch doctors told him it was OK to hold off on surgery until December.

Maybe it was Gardy who told him not to worry about getting his legs in shape in Spring Training.

Maybe those poor legs really did need over six weeks of complete rest before even thinking about rehabbing.

Maybe facing 18-19 year old pitchers for three weeks before returning to the Twins was plenty of preparation for trying to hit off of Major Leaguers… or maybe the Twins front office didn’t want to make their superstar get on a plane to Rochester.

I’m just a dumb fan with a blog. What do I know?

Well… I know that he’s the only Major League baseball player I’ve ever heard of who’s essentially missed half a season with leg weakness!

I know that, whether it was wise or not, Justin Morneau played for two months with a pinched nerve in his neck that caused his wrist to be weak and numbness in his fingers, while his former room mate rested his weak legs.

I know Mauer’s team… while mixing and matching two journeyman catchers who will likely end up with career batting averages around .180… was starting to win a bunch of ballgames before he came back and was handed the 3-spot in the batting order as if it was his birthright.

I know he’s hit about .180 since returning and the team has lost more games than they’ve won since he came back.

I know that, in the past, whenever the subject has been brought up that perhaps he should consider spending some time learning another position, he has loudly proclaimed, “I’m a catcher!” and I know that now… when he’s neither hitting nor catching much, if any, better than the two “backup” catchers, suddenly he’s out there taking ground balls at 3B and 1B and telling the media he’s never been averse to playing other positions from time to time.

I know that for $23 million dollars a year, the Twins and their fans should be entitled to some leadership, in addition to seeing the player performing at high levels on the field and they seem to be getting neither.

I know that there is at least the perception among a growing part of the fan base (and perhaps the clubhouse) that Joe Mauer is soft.

I know he’s a very rich ballplayer who has been coddled a bit since the day he was signed, got his big payday, has not performed in a manner worthy of what he’s being paid, and has not shown any indication that he accepts any accountability for the reasons why he has flat out sucked this season (when he’s even been on the field).

In short, I think he’s been selfish. Perhaps it’s because he’s never been required not to be selfish. He’s never been required to lead. He’s never been required to do anything outside his comfort zone and he’s never been told he’s anything but great.

This may be the first time he’s ever really struggled as a professional athlete for any prolonged period of time and I’m not sure he’s handling it very well… maybe he doesn’t know how.

I know a lot of people will consider this to be me “ripping” Mauer. So be it. When he steps up and warrants praise, I’ll give him that, too.

I look forward to the day.

- JC

GameChat – Dodgers @ Twins, 7:10pm

Well the Dodgers may have filed for bankruptcy but at least they get to play anyway. And Twins fans (and players) are glad to welcome Matty Guerrier back to town.  And Tosoni is back with the team since Delmon is down - I’m really hoping he hadn’t actually gotten on the plane yet.

Of course the big furor today was caused by the fact that the team has begun to work with Mauer taking grounders at 1B.

photo courtesy of Tom Pelissero

 

Yeah, that action garnered a LOT of discussion back & forth in the blogger/twitter/news media world.  Joe is using Cuddyer’s glove right now but they have apparently ordered him one according to Gardy – he readily admits he’s not ready to go out there yet after a single day of practice but he has said he’ll play wherever they need him.

LA Dodgers @ Minnesota
Gwynn, LF Revere, CF
Blake, 3B Casilla, A, 2B
Ethier, DH Mauer, C
Kemp, CF Cuddyer, RF
Loney, 1B Thome, DH
Uribe, 2B Valencia, 3B
Oeltjen, RF Tosoni, LF
Ellis, A, C Hughes, L, 1B
Gordon, SS Nishioka, SS
Billingsley, P Blackburn, P

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
LA Dodgers 2 0 1 2 3 2 2 3 0 15 24 1
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 3

I’d like to say things can’t get any worse than this, but I’m afraid this team would take that as a challenge to prove me wrong. – JC