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

7 Replies to “The Mauer Thing”

  1. I wouldn’t say that Mauer is “above reproach.” I just don’t think there’s a lot of cause to question his toughness or commitment to the team, when he’s been one of the most durable Catchers in the game since 2005, despite the serious knee injury he suffered in his rookie year. He also seems to be in a can’t-win situation now, where he gets criticized if he takes the time he needs to get healthy, but he also gets it if he comes back before he’s truly ready to perform at his normal level.

    I’d guess that he probably was advised that the surgery would be a minor fix-up, and he’d be good to go by April, so he acted accordingly. Perhaps he made his leg even worse by trying to start the season with the team, although he wasn’t really ready to go. So he might be guilty of bad judgment, or taking bad advice from doctors. I’d also agree that it might have helped him to spend a week in Rochester, although he’s used Ft. Myers as his tune-up spot before and it worked out fine.

    But I don’t get all the stuff about him being soft, inconsistent, and selfish. It’s true that he has some significant injury every couple-few years, but he’s not sitting out over piddly aches and pains, and he still usually plays as many games as you’d expect of a Catcher by the end of the season. And given that he’s been consistently winning Gold Gloves & Silver Slugger awards at Catcher, I can’t call him selfish because he hasn’t asked to learn other positions before today, or since he hasn’t asked the manager to drop him in the order because he’s just 6-for-34 in the 10 games since coming off the DL.

    The grounders he was taking at 1B today, I take as a sign that Gardy has talked to him about giving him a secondary position where he might occasionally “take it easy” but still keep his bat in the lineup, where Luke Hughes might sit down instead of displacing Jim Thome. Maybe Gardy didn’t need him to do that when he had Morneau or Cuddyer available to play there, but Luke Hughes? The situation is desperate. And credit to Mauer for answering the call of duty and saying, ‘OK, if it helps the team for me to play 1B occasionally, now, instead of DH’ing, I’ll give it a try.’

  2. Maybe its an Iowa thing — or maybe its a “middle age” thing — but I agree with you 100% JC.

    I lost whatever remaining respect I had for his character when he declined to go to Rochester. I’m sure he didn’t “refuse” to go to Rochester because I’m pretty sure Bill Smith would not put him in a position where it would be an outright refusal. But Gardenhire had made it pretty clear in the media that he thought Mauer should spend time with the Red Wings. The fact that he didn’t do so reflects badly on both Mauer and on Bill Smith who apparently didn’t have the guts to assign him there.

    It is incredibly discouraging to me because it is a blatant demonstration that Mauer will never put the interests of the team above his own narrow interests.

    He disappears in the playoffs, he puts his own interests ahead of the team, and don’t kid yourself, he was backed into a corner about working out at first (my bet is that some of his commercial and endorsement sponsors aren’t too happy about the beating his image is taking) — he is simply not a leader that will ever lead the Twins into playoff success.

  3. Good post, JC. I agree with most of what you have written. As much as Mauer is at fault for the timing/delay of the surgery, the “goal” of being ready for Opening Day instead of Spring Training, and the apparent unwillingness to travel to AAA Rochester as part of his rehab assignment, I put an equal measure of blame on the organization for those things. The Twins have apparently completely forgotten that, although a star, he is an employee. I can understand, to a degree, there being some good-faith back and forth about his surgery (the sides and their physicians could have differing opinions on what was best for Mauer in the long-term and short-term, I suppose), but the rest of it was simply a matter of following orders. Whatever the surgery or conditioning was, he was to be ready for the beginning of Spring Training. When he wasn’t, there should have been no conversation about where he would rehabilitate; there should have only been plane tickets (first class, I’m sure) to Rochester. I’m waiting for the organization to put their foot down some time this year. Or maybe it will take a friend like Morneau calling him out in the clubhouse??

  4. Thanks for the comments, all.

    frightwig, you make legitimate points, but I’m just not buying the “plays as many games as you’d expect of a catcher” thing (and I hope we can agree that “gold gloves” is the last criteria we should refer to when assessing defensive abilities). Sure he does catch a lot of games when he’s healthy. But he’s not just a catcher. He is (or at least is supposed to be) the lynchpin of the offense. He’s also the face of the franchise and to earn that $23 million, he’s got to be in the line up more than 135 times a year.

    All 3 of you made references to the organization (whether Gardy, Smith or whomever) not insisting on more from him in one manner or another and I totally agree. None of us is on the “inside”, so we don’t really know whether there is any sort of clubhouse resentment toward Mauer, but there are certainly signs of it being reported. If it’s true, then the Twins have only themselves to blame. They created this prima donna and now they have to live with the results. If he’s hitting .380, there’s no problem. If he’s hitting .190 and still getting special treatment, then yeah… that could be a big problem.

  5. I have a cynical question. I am assuming that Mauer rehabbed in Florida because it was his “comfort zone” but from a financial standpoint, how was he taxed when he was on the DL? For state tax purposes, since he was in Florida at the time, was that the applicable tax law? Seems to me that would be financial incentive for rehabbing in Florida as opposed to Minnesota or New York.

  6. Wow, jb, even I’m not THAT cynical! LOL

    I have no idea how these guys are taxed, but I would certainly hope that’s not a consideration!

  7. Honestly I don’t think the taxes would have had an impact on where he rehabbed but it is just one of those odd questions that struck me. Maybe I’ll check with heetcpa.