Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Home-Town Kid Makes Good

He makes his community proud that he’s a part of us, but what looms in his future?
by Charlie Leck

In America, almost every little kid’s dream is to make it to the big leagues. I can attest to that. Yup, it’s a part of the American trilogy – “baseball, apple pie and the American flag!” The dream culminates in being named the MVP – the Most Valuable Player!

A hometown kid from our metropolitan community made it! Joe Mauer, of Saint Paul, was yesterday named the American League’s Most Valuable Player for the 2009 season.

Today, the entire state is busting its buttons with pride and happiness. Three cheers for the kid. He deserved it and it would have been “highway robbery” if it hadn’t been given to him. The great fear around here, of course, was that the award would have to go to a Yankee just because of their dominance in the news arena.

But Joe had just too good a season and distanced himself so far out ahead of all the other players in the league that there were just no other options.

So, what happens when a small-town, regular, good guy is announced as the winner of this grand award? On Monday, in Minneapolis, Joe showed up at the ball park to meet the press and hear the official word. Gathered there to greet him was his mom and dad and two full rows of his family, including grandparents, brothers and sisters-in-law and nieces (one of them wearing a blue Joe Mauer (#7) t-shirt. Also present were a number of his team-mates and local friends.

Of the 28 writers with votes, Joe was the top choice on 27 ballots. The one member of the baseball writers association who didn’t vote for Joe must have been out late drinking the night before the vote – and probably with the guy, Miguel Cabrera, for whom he voted. Cabrera had less than stellar public relations success this past season that saw him involved in a drunken spat with his wife and a trip to the county jail. Well, I guess that doesn’t make him a bad ball player, but it puts extra emphasis on the “aw, shucks,” down-home, kid-next-door nature of our entire state’s favorite ball player, Joe Mauer.

What kind of year did Joe Mauer have? Well, it started out disastrously. Joe missed all of spring training and a month at the beginning of the regular season with a serious back or kidney problem. When he returned to the team on May 1st and stepped up to the plate, he knocked one out of the park on his first swing and he was off and running for the rest of the year. He finished with a batting average of 365 (that’s a major league record for a catcher) and it won him his third batting title in his four years of playing. He also led the league in slugging and on-base percentage (28 home runs, 96 runs batted in, and 191 hits). These are unheard of numbers for a catcher and they carve out a place for Joe in the annals of baseball history and propel him ever closer to a guaranteed spot in Cooperstown (the Major League Baseball Hal of Fame). Oh, yes, Joe also won the year's Gold Glove Award as the best defensive catcher in the American League.

In the entire history of baseball, no catcher ever won a league batting title. Now, Joes has done it three times. If you're a baseball fanatic, think of the great catchers in the history of the game with whom Joe Mauer now stands: Yoggi Berra, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Bill Dickey, Thurman Munson, Roy Campanella and Walker Cooper. Oh, my goodness!

Joe is only under contract to the Twins for one more year. He’s due to make 12 million dollars this coming season. (I guess that blurs a little of that “aw-shucks” kind of feeling about him.) In 2011, he’ll be a free agent and it is frightening to think of what that might mean when New York (both teams) and Boston start bidding for his services.

Would Joe really leave his home-town to go to the Big Apple?
“Say it ain’t so, Joe!” Well, we began this blog talking about every little boy’s dream of playing in the big leagues and there is nothing bigger, and no dream sweeter, than pulling on the pin stripes of the Bronx Bombers. However, the New York City mentality doesn’t seem to fit Joe as sweetly as the Yankee uniform might. He’ll need to give the Twins a discount for his services and there aren’t many ball players who would even think about doing that. Joe Mauer just happens to be one of those few. It’s our only hope folks.

It’s going to be a wonderful 2010 season in the Twins new ball park, Target Field. An opportunity to watch Joe Mauer play this little kids' game.
Already this morning a reader has sent in a link to Joe Christiansen's commentary in the StarTribune about whether the Twins can figure out how to keep Joe Mauer in one of their uniforms. You can also watch a video there with Joe's comments at the award ceremony.

Another tells me that the Mayor of Saint Paul has declared today (Wed, 25 November) Joe Mauer Day over in that city. Joe will be honored today in a special ceremony and he'll get a key to the city. [See a short story about that in MinnPost]
Still another tells me that only 10 players have won 3 batting titles as Joe has and among those 10 names 3 played for the Minnesota Twins -- Joe, Tony Oliva and Rod Carew. The others are Wade Boggs, George Brett, Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, Harry Heilman, Nap Lajoie and Ty Cobb. That, of course, is not correct unless he amends it to American League players. Right off the top I see that Stan Musial is not on the list and he won 7 batting titles.

No comments:

Post a Comment