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  • Why is Joe Mauer Such a Lightning Rod?

    It happened again on Tuesday. A local mainstream writer put out a column that was, to some extent, critical of Joe Mauer, and the reactions from fans were highly visceral on both sides.

    The piece in question came from Patrick Reusse, suggesting that the onus is on Mauer (who still hasn't driven in a run this year) to step up and carry the team back to respectability.

    Some saw it as a reinforcement of the reservations they have long held about Mauer. Others saw it as another in a long string of unfair media attacks on the team's best player, a guy who has been used as a central scapegoat and punching bag during the franchise's ongoing lull.

    What is it about Mauer that makes him such a divisive and controversial figure among fans and writers? It's a question I've long pondered.

    There's no question that Mauer gets far too much grief for a player of his ability and accomplishment. Traditional media types grumble because he doesn't fit the classic superstar mold, and fans follow course. He shies away from reporters, he isn't a vocal clubhouse fixture, he has missed time often due to injuries and he doesn't rack up big HR and RBI totals.

    These overblown critiques have led to a swelling of backlash amongst those who, despite not even necessarily being huge Mauer fans, feel the need to position themselves as defenders.

    After all, Mauer is the team's best player and one of the best players in franchise history. Maybe we should spend a little more time appreciating his strengths rather than bemoaning his shortcomings.

    To be clear, Mauer does have shortcomings. He's not witout faults, and that sometimes gets lost in the rush to defend him against outrageous detractions. He hasn't been able to stay on the field, which isn't really his fault -- a punishing position and bad luck have been chief culprits -- but remains a mark against him. He also doesn't hit for a ton of power and doesn't run all that well.

    That means that although Mauer's abilities to spray line drives to left field and get on base at an elite rate are extremely valuable skills, they don't stand out as much in a bad offense. When other players in the lineup are hitting, Mauer will drive them in or get driven in. When the lineup is struggling, he often ends up getting stuck at first and second base.

    He doesn't create offense single-handedly in the way someone like Justin Morneau did. And that's why, in a season like last year where the lineup was filled with underperformers, Mauer finished with only 47 RBI and 62 runs scored in 113 games despite a .324 batting average and .880 OPS.

    When the offense is fully functioning, as it was in 2006 or 2010, Mauer is a transformative cog and an MVP-caliber contributor. When the rest of the players are scuffling, Mauer isn't really the type of player who will "carry" an offense, as Reusse beckons him to do in his latest column.

    At least that hasn't been the case in the past. Maybe it changes here in 2014 with Mauer transitioning to first base full-time. Maybe he moves a little closer to the form he showed in 2009, when he truly could power an offense rather than facilitate it.

    The signs haven't been real positive to that end, but it's still very early, and the 30-year-old is adapting to a new position while also shaking off rust after missing the last chunk of 2013 and dealing with lingering concussion symptoms during the offseason.

    I know many people want to see Mauer take more of a lead in driving the offense's production. He's very highly paid (which seems kind of irrelevant at this point), he's the first baseman and -- above all -- he's the most talented hitter on the team.

    I don't think those people are necessarily misguided, at least until they start calling him an overpaid slap hitter.

    I myself would like to see Mauer take on a role where he's putting the ball over the fence more frequently, and is more aggressive early in the count with runners on base. If that doesn't happen, and he continues to be the patient and deliberate Joe Mauer we've come to know, I'll still enjoy watching him. He's one of the very best.

    But unless other players around him in the batting order are the ones stepping up, he may not have the means to make a profound impact on this club's run production.
    Comments 349 Comments
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Here is my personal opinion, which has been reinforced by many of my friends beliefs. Mauer was sold to us as this down to earth kid. A genuine nice guy. He was never going to need a gazillion dollars. His biggest fan, Charley Walters wrote that he was so conservative that he invested his $5M signing bonus and could live off that forever.

      So after his rookie deal, and after another $33M in his second deal. I think many, including myself were surprised that demanded so much money in his third contract.

      It is not his fault that the team through that much money at him. But after he signed that deal he comes out and says he wants to win here. While ownership knew they didn't have a 35 HR a year guy when they signed that deal, Mauer too knew that this deal would reduce the talent around him.

      I am not disputing that he is a nice guy or anything. But I think it comes back to the contract. What the media sold was a down to earth, humble, frugal hometown kid. And of course a sinking ship needs a scapegoat.

      On the field, I completely agree with you that we should be sitting back and enjoying a player that does not come around often.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      The hysteria is everywhere when a player is making "an unjust" amount of money--the ignorance comes out of the woodwork. I don't know about local media back in the day, but I knew people ("fans") who used to criticize Garnett for not scoring more. As though overall he wasn't the best player or top five players for some of those years.

      With Mauer and baseball the issue also becomes one of the difference between those who think batting average, rbi, and homers tell the story of a player's performance and those who think OPS (and especially the "O" there) does a better job (not to mention WAR).
    1. drunksam's Avatar
      drunksam -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      Here is my personal opinion, which has been reinforced by many of my friends beliefs. Mauer was sold to us as this down to earth kid. A genuine nice guy. He was never going to need a gazillion dollars. His biggest fan, Charley Walters wrote that he was so conservative that he invested his $5M signing bonus and could live off that forever.

      So after his rookie deal, and after another $33M in his second deal. I think many, including myself were surprised that demanded so much money in his third contract.

      It is not his fault that the team through that much money at him. But after he signed that deal he comes out and says he wants to win here. While ownership knew they didn't have a 35 HR a year guy when they signed that deal, Mauer too knew that this deal would reduce the talent around him.

      I am not disputing that he is a nice guy or anything. But I think it comes back to the contract. What the media sold was a down to earth, humble, frugal hometown kid. And of course a sinking ship needs a scapegoat.

      On the field, I completely agree with you that we should be sitting back and enjoying a player that does not come around often.
      It's not that Joe "wanted" or "needed" more money or a large contract. His production on the field said that he had earned a contract of that size. The MLBPA is very much against most "hometown" discounts and agents are constantly trying to squeeze every last penny for their clients. With these forces at work it is often inevitable that a player takes the highest paying deal. Of course there can be and are other influences, but money is a big one. Imagine what Mauer would have received on the open market. Would it have been $200 million+? I liked Joe when he was drafted and debuted with the team, but as the article stated, I am one of those who have become a bigger Mauer defender because of the many attacks against him, even when I sometimes agree with a point or two. The bottom line however, is that Mauer is a heck of a ball player and I enjoy watching him play. Even more so on teams filled with subpar players. My hope is that we an turn this thing around, so when I look back on Mauer's career it's not with pity.
    1. mattkummer's Avatar
      mattkummer -
      Good post, Nick.
      I've wondered the same thing, it's kind of fascinating.

      My theory-- and it's only that-- is that Joe Mauer is a target for the wild and unrealistic expectations Minnesotans have for their sports teams, because he is truly "one of us". Minnesota is so starved for a championship team (sorry, Lynx), and Joe happens to play on the one team that has won championships in the not too distant past. The heart and soul of those 87 and 91 teams was Kirby Puckett-- and everyone remembers Game 6 against the Braves.

      Flash forward 20+ years, and you have a guy in his home state, whose athletic exploits have been covered since he was a teenager starring in 3 sports, a guy who debuted at 21 for his hometown team (and got hurt right away), and has always been seen as "the local kid who will lead the Twins back to a championship". And then he signed "the contract", which I quite frankly think a lot of Minnesotans resent as not being very "Minnesotan".

      I actually think the pressure is GREATER on Joe Mauer playing in Minnesota under that contract, than it would be for him playing for the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, etc. In those places, he's just another highly-paid All-Star on teams with several of them. In Minnesota, he's the kid from St. Paul who's by far the highest-paid player on his hometown team that's lost 90+ games for 3 years in a row. I've wondered if at some point, he'll break and say: "Screw this. I'm sick of taking all the crap for this organization not winning. I'll waive my no-trade clause and go somewhere I can help someone contend without having to carry the neurosis of my hometown's fan base."
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      There is certainly envy related to his salary but I think the easiest explanation is he's the only guy on the team anyone has heard of and the team is bad so therefore it must be all Mauer's fault. If you're the face on the billboard expect to get crap when the team is unsuccessful.
    1. Joel's Avatar
      Joel -
      I think it directly relates to how much they smile on TV. For the average fan, players with half the production are beloved because they look like they are having fun. Perhaps we identify more with those players. Would Kirby be immortalized if he had glowered in center field? I'm out of the market so don't watch many games, but Joe seems to be pretty serious at all times.

      Also, we expect so much from the star that there is no way for him to surpass expectations, only meet them. Less is expected from a mid-level talent and therefore they can surpass expectations and surprise us.
    1. crarko's Avatar
      crarko -
      On the other hand, Reusse could polarize people writing about fly-fishing. He's a past master at it.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by drunksam View Post
      . Imagine what Mauer would have received on the open market. Would it have been $200 million+? .
      You hear this argument a lot. I think a caveat needs to be applied. Joe was not a free agent when he signed that deal. He had one year left. If he waited until free agency, he would have entered in a year in which he came off a .327, .871 OPS, 9 HR line instead of .365, 1.031 OPS, 28 HR. So honestly, I don't think he would have received a deal that went out 9 years at $23M a year.

      I think a ton of the criticism about Joe is unfair. I am just pointing out the "why".
    1. D. Hocking's Avatar
      D. Hocking -
      Quote Originally Posted by crarko View Post
      On the other hand, Reusse could polarize people writing about fly-fishing. He's a past master at it.

      True - that is usually his goal. I generally like him, but have less patience for him since he kept bringing up how players don't like to play with things as minor as a headache after Mauer's concussion. When Mackay would call him on it, he would say he was not talking about concussions, but after awhile I got the impression that he felt Mauer was being over cautious and play. Granted at the time, the Twins were downplaying Mauer's symptoms and implying he would be back soon. The full degree of his symptoms did not come out until later.

      He knows more about sports in one finger than I do in my entire body and he has some entertaining stories, but I do get the impression that often he is just going through the motions until he can retire (not that I entirely blame him he is closing in on 70). I am not saying there should never be an article critical of Mauer, but this seemed a little lazy to be writing this so early in the seaon, esp. when it seems like it did not really offer anything new.
    1. thetank's Avatar
      thetank -
      Risk rewards doesn't equate for a catcher for this long of a contract.
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      I think you hit on it here:

      "...unless other players around him in the batting order are the ones stepping up, he may not have the means to make a profound impact on this club's run production."

      He's the one superstar player on the team, and he isn't the kind of hitter that's going to make a big impact on his own. His hitting style is complementary, when the team needs more hitters that are supplementary. His contract and the team's promotion of him as "face of the franchise" rings hollow when there aren't run-producers to make his offensive contributions count.

      It reminds me of The Bunt... Mauer said afterwards he was trying to make an RBI opportunity for Kubel who was on deck. But Kubel isn't supposed to be The Guy... Mauer is supposed to be The Guy.
    1. SockNet's Avatar
      SockNet -
      I feel talent w/o leadership is the same as leadership w/o talent. No one cares. I wonder if our teams best player shows up and plays with a little piss and vinegar in him, it will rub off on others even if his numbers don't change. My guess is that's what they went after in Pierzynki. A productive player with a little edge to stir the pot. I also agree with "I think it directly relates to how much they smile on TV." Maybe he has more P&V or leadership than we see, but I feel we would have heard reports of how well he leads if that were the case.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Facts: Mauer is awesome. Mauer is highly compensated. He was born here, but has chosen to live in FL. The team is awful. The marketing campaign has been built around him a few times.

      Opinions:
      A player whose success (runs, rbi, wins) is driven by his teammates, will be more criticized when he is in the spotlight, than a player who can create more success on his own. When you build your marketing campaign around a player, and the team sucks BAD, that player is going to get more criticism than the other guys on the roster. Asking that every article about him contain positive stuff is silly, sorry, it just is. Sometimes people are going to write other stories about him. Should they really be required to also provide positive information about him?

      bottom line for me:
      Mauer is awesome. Mauer has added pressure on him because he is the face of the franchise. The franchise SUCKS right now. Ergo, he is getting hammered, fairly or not, that's the price you pay for being the face. Personally, someone that chooses to live here is more MN than someone that was born here (no more choice than a piece of furniture has) that chooses to live someplace else. I don't get the obsession with him being born here, frankly. Baffles me, totally.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      As a follower of Minnesota sports since the mid-60s, I can say I shouldn't be surprised. The same thing happened to Rod Carew. Carew had the best season ever for a Twin and all some people could say (led by the front office and PR staff) was that he didn't hit enough homers. He had his detractors the whole time he was here--a vocal minority who always had a negative word.

      Now that I live in New York and have a bit more of an objective perspective, I think it's a Minnesota thing. Minnesota nice has an evil twin: Minnesota mediocre. Minnesotans are predisposed to hate excellence. They loved Hrbek because he wasn't trying to be great, he just was. Mauer has the audacity to think he can be the best, and to work hard to get there. He also has the audacity to insist on getting paid what he's worth relative to the market. In so doing, he makes all the poor schlubs with limited ability look bad. And Minnesotans hate that. Not all, but many.

      Think of the last time even one player on a Minnesota team had the kind of hero worship we see here in NY with Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera. The last one was Puckett. Peterson might qualify, but he's been tabbed as "injury prone" or "greedy". Blyleven got run out of town. Ditto Tarkenton (the first time). Kaat too. Tony O suffered blistering racism and other taunts. Viola. Santana. Hunter is still a fan favorite, but to a lesser extent. Garnett was called an "albatross around the franchise's neck." Randy Moss who? Bobby Smith was a hot dog. Gaborick was run out of town. Parise is called a "disappointment."

      Minnesota fans love an underdog, a guy with limited ability that makes them think they might have done that, but for some lame excuse. They cheered Rob Wilfong and booed Rod Carew. They cheered Drew Butera and booed Joe Mauer. That pretty much sums it up right there.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I totally disagree with cmat, I don't think there is a hatred of excellence at all. Totally generalizing about people. Maybe we should be glad MN don't hero worship something so trivial as sports figures, maybe that's a good thing. They also booed Butera, and cheered Mauer. The games I've been to, Mauer gets more love than any player on the roster right now. I couldn't disagree with more parts of your post if I tried.
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      Quote Originally Posted by mattkummer View Post
      Good post, Nick.
      I've wondered the same thing, it's kind of fascinating.

      My theory-- and it's only that-- is that Joe Mauer is a target for the wild and unrealistic expectations Minnesotans have for their sports teams, because he is truly "one of us". Minnesota is so starved for a championship team (sorry, Lynx), and Joe happens to play on the one team that has won championships in the not too distant past. The heart and soul of those 87 and 91 teams was Kirby Puckett-- and everyone remembers Game 6 against the Braves.

      Flash forward 20+ years, and you have a guy in his home state, whose athletic exploits have been covered since he was a teenager starring in 3 sports, a guy who debuted at 21 for his hometown team (and got hurt right away), and has always been seen as "the local kid who will lead the Twins back to a championship". And then he signed "the contract", which I quite frankly think a lot of Minnesotans resent as not being very "Minnesotan".

      I actually think the pressure is GREATER on Joe Mauer playing in Minnesota under that contract, than it would be for him playing for the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, etc. In those places, he's just another highly-paid All-Star on teams with several of them. In Minnesota, he's the kid from St. Paul who's by far the highest-paid player on his hometown team that's lost 90+ games for 3 years in a row. I've wondered if at some point, he'll break and say: "Screw this. I'm sick of taking all the crap for this organization not winning. I'll waive my no-trade clause and go somewhere I can help someone contend without having to carry the neurosis of my hometown's fan base."
      I used to think this too until a couple years ago when the purge began (Nathan, Cuddyer, etc) so now Joe's the only one left. I think he'd be vilified pretty much for the rest of his life if he requested a trade now.

      And ironically, just to speculate, if Joe had seen the writing on the wall and signed with another team after 2010, whose fault would it have been? Why, Bill Smith's, of course
    1. h2oface's Avatar
      h2oface -
      Mauer is a great player, just the way he plays. And even though I appreciate that fully, I can't help to keep hoping that he grows into a slugger that uses that "perfect swing" and 6' 5" 240 pound athletic body to evolve and become the player his daddy always advertised he would. I can't help to keep hoping that this large strong man will just hit the ball 10-15 feet further on the fly, and the promise be fulfilled. I will even give up on the promise that he would be the next .400 hitter, for a .275 average and 40+ homers and 130 RBI instead. But I will also enjoy him as he is.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      People still clamor for Moss, and Chris Carter, and others. People LOVE Adrian Peterson (he can carry a whole team, btw), even with his personal warts. CMAT is just plain wrong, imo. The issue with Mauer isn't his excellence, it is that his excellence isn't as obvious as some others, and the team SUCKS, and he's supposed to be the promised one, and things aren't working, so it must be partially his fault. phew.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      New Yorkers also hate AROD, even though he's one of the best players in MLB history.....so that whole "MN hates excellence, and NY loves it" thing doesn't fly well, imo. I've never, not once, heard anyone say Peterson is greedy, btw. No idea who you hang out with.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      I totally disagree with cmat, I don't think there is a hatred of excellence at all. Totally generalizing about people. Maybe we should be glad MN don't hero worship something so trivial as sports figures, maybe that's a good thing. They also booed Butera, and cheered Mauer. The games I've been to, Mauer gets more love than any player on the roster right now. I couldn't disagree with more parts of your post if I tried.
      Just a gestalt. No science behind it. Being excellent is like being holier than thou. Minnesotans hate that.
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