Book exerpt: Joe Mauer

Mauer burst onto the professional scene in 2004, when he slashed .308/.369/.570 in 35 games in his debut season. However, Mauer was already known to most MLB fans since he was the top pick of the 2001 MLB Draft. As far as Minnesotans were concerned, Mauer was already well known to them, as the handsome St. Paul native was the first-ever athlete to win the U.S.A Today High School Athlete of the Year in two different sports: As a quarterback his junior year, and as a catcher his senior year. The multi-talented Minnesota native decided on baseball, and timed his entrance to the big leagues perfectly, as the Twins made him the number one overall pick.

Of course, there are plenty of stories that start this way and end in sorrow and misery both for the player and team, as the heightened expectations can often crush a Hometown Hero like Mauer. The smooth-swinging lefty has somehow exceeded expectations for most of his career, though. Mauer won four Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, three batting titles and an MVP in his first seven seasons in the big leagues, all coming while playing the most demanding position on the diamond. Don’t believe that catching is the hardest position, consider that when Mauer won his first batting title in 2006 he was the first catcher to win a batting title in American League history. He is currently the only catcher with three batting titles, and the only catcher to lead the league in each of the triple slash categories (BA, OBP, SLG) in a single season when he did so in 2009. In a four-year span from 2006-2009, Mauer managed to win as many batting titles as a catcher as all other catchers in MLB history had at the time! Buster Posey has since won a batting title, but seriously that about that previous stat for a second.

Speaking of 2009, Mauer’s MVP 2009 season was incredibly impressive (and with hindsight, a bit of an outlier), as he hit a career-best 29 home runs in addition to his typical high batting average (.365). This was not some ordinary career-high either, Mauer has not topped 13 home runs in any other season, and certainly doesn’t appear to be headed anywhere near that total again as his career winds down.

More so than his production, however, Mauer was (and still is) beloved because of the turn around the franchise made while under Mauer’s leadership. Along with Justin Morneau, Johan Santana and Rod Gardenhire, Mauer helped lead the Twins to four division titles in those first seven seasons. Coincidentally or not, since Mauer’s numbers took a hit in 2011, the club has bottomed out a bit. There are obviously other factors in play (like, you know, pitching), but it is a fitting metaphor.

Back to his early days, they read like one of the old-timey baseball legends that are starting to show up more and more often in this book. There’s the story of how Mauer was asked to leave tee-ball because he was hitting the ball too hard, or the fact that he only struck out once in his entire high school baseball career. Every statistic from his high school days are remarkable in fact, and having spent a few years in Minnesota, it’s even more impressive that he could become such a good baseball player when the spring sports season is typically cut at least in half because it’s still too cold.

Mauer’s swing is about as smooth and efficient a swing as there has been in baseball in his generation, and he’s a scout’s wet dream. He looks like a baseball player through and through, and does everything the scouts love. Mauer may have slid from his lofty spot among baseball’s elite hitters at this point, but his prime should not be discounted for the awe it inspired.

It’s fitting that Mauer looks like he is the type of player to play his whole career in one city; his hometown no less. Mauer is the epitome of Minnesota, and one of the easiest selections in this book. I mean, how many guys can say people in their hometown have worn fake versions of their sideburns, as Mauer can claim after the Metrodome starting selling fake versions of Mauer’s famous sideburns.

Let’s let then-Rays’ manager Joe Maddon end this one. “I think when God made his blueprint for catchers, he stamped Joe out.”