Joe Mauer: How to feel about the Minnesota native
April 18, 2018
When I think about the Minnesota Twins, I think about a lot of things. I think about the all-time greats such Rod Carew, Kirby Pucket and Harmon Killebrew. I think about the World Series titles of ‘87 and ‘91.
With the modern Twins, I think about Joe Mauer. With Joe Mauer grabbing his 2,000 hit last Thursday, it really makes you think about the career that he’s had. As I watched the Minnesota native tip his helmet to the fans, I began to wonder how to remember or feel about his career. How do you feel about a guy who ultimately peaked before signing his big contract? Does he belong among the greats I mentioned? I stared at an empty page for days trying to contextualize his career. After staring at stats, comparing him to current Hall of Famers, and watching clips, I have an answer.
However, before we think about his legacy, the elephant in the room needs to be addressed.
Joe Mauer was overvalued.
As sports fans, we tend to overreact to anything that happens. If someone has a career year, the general reaction among general managers is to sign him to a massive contract. In most cases, production tends to decline. This leads to overpaid players with unfair expectations and unhappy fans.
That is exactly what happened to Joe Mauer. When Joe Mauer won the MVP in 2009, people lost their minds. There was real conversation about whether or not Mauer should be among the highest paid players in baseball. But when you look at his career stats and the stats from that year, it never made sense for the Twins to offer him that contract.
In his MVP season, he hit a .365, 96 RBI’s and 28 home runs. These are impressive numbers for a catcher, but when you look at overall league production, only his batting average and on base percentage were among the best in the league. In fact, he was not even in the Top 10 for home runs or RBI production. Those are the key components that we have always looked at when signing players to massive contracts.
When evaluating if the Twins overpaid, just think about the history of baseball and who we have signed to big contracts in the past. If you look at the history of the league, Mauer signed the 14th biggest contract in baseball history—tied with Ryan Howard. When you look at the guys ahead of him, excluding pitchers, only one other player has never hit over 30 home runs in a season—Derek Jeter.
Baseball rosters have always valued the power hitter – the guy who can hit the long ball and drive in runs. That player has always been important if you want to contend for a championship. Fair or not, Mauer was lumped in with guys like Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols because they were all paid similar amounts of money. But the truth is, Mauer was never that type of player. Instead, he was just overvalued and paid much more than he was ever worth. When you value a player against the players I mentioned, fans expect a higher level of production.
Mauer never fit that description, and looking back on it, it was absurd that we were thinking about paying him that type of money.
Mauer peaked 9 years ago.
Just go look at the stats; this isn’t even an argument anymore. He has never even come close to hitting those types of numbers again.
His legacy: Will Mauer be in Cooperstown one day?
This is a tough question. I have always had problems with who they chose to exclude from the Hall of Fame. I view the Hall of Fame as two simple questions:
- Can the history of baseball be told without you? In other words, how important were you to the game? This simple question is why I have never understood why people turn the Hall of Fame into a morals question. As if it is an ethics award, which it is not. Ty Cobb was an extremely racist person and he is in there. We can no longer talk ethics with him being in.
- When I say your name, do people go, “well of course!”? If I said, “Should Hank Aaron be in the Hall of Fame?” you would say, “well duh, he is one of the best hitters of all time.” If people do not respond with, “well yea, duh,” or, “of course,” I don’t think you should be in there on the first ballot.
Circling back to Joe Mauer, ultimately a strong case can be made both ways. Some will argue that his batting titles, on base percentage and career hits earned him a spot in the Hall. That he could finish with around 2,400 hits puts him in good company. Others will argue that because he did not produce consistently and was always hurt, he does not belong.
Bottom line is this:
With the direction of baseball and analytics, history will view Joe Mauer favorably. His stats and the fact that he never played on the big stage will give his career a mystique that a Yankees or Cardinals player could never have. He will not go into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, nor does he deserve to. However, if he earns a spot in the Hall, it will be based entirely on his batting titles, career hits, use of advance metrics by writers and the nostalgia of his career.
And finally, my answer:
I believe that Joe Mauer should be in the Hall of Fame, but I would not be upset if he never got in. He is important to baseball, but ultimately, due to his injury, he never lived up to expectations.