Mauer about winning, not fame
Under-the-radar AL MVP candidate isn't after exposure
NEW YORK -- Lost in all the excitement this week of the Twins winning their fifth American League Central championship in the past eight seasons was the fact that their All-Star catcher, Joe Mauer, won his third AL batting title in the past four years, finishing with a .365 average in 2009.
Mauer, playing in small-market Minneapolis, hasn't received the national recognition he might deserve, although he's being mentioned highly this season as a top AL MVP Award candidate. Perhaps he also doesn't get the big media buzz because he's so selfless and unassuming.A Minnesota native and child of the frozen north, Mauer stayed true to that code when asked about his personal accomplishments. The Twins are down 0-1 in the best-of-five AL Division Series, and Game 2 is on tap at Yankee Stadium on Friday at 5:07 p.m. CT on TBS. "With everything that's gone on, I really haven't had time to think about it," Mauer said. "My goal, I told everybody at the beginning of the season, was getting to the postseason. Once you get to the postseason, anything can happen from there. Hopefully, when I'm done playing, I can look back and appreciate those things." Mauer should chew on a few of these factoids: He was the first catcher in AL history to win a batting title when he did so in 2006. As far as other catchers are concerned, in the National League, Ernie Lombardi won two titles in 1938 and '42, and Bubbles Hargrave did the same in '26. That's it, which means Mauer has won as many batting titles as all other Major League catchers combined. "The Twins, offensively, have left-handed power, and everything really focuses around Mauer," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's so dangerous in their lineup."
Mauer's only the ninth player in AL history to win at least three batting titles, the last being Wade Boggs, who won four in a row from 1985-88 and five overall in six seasons. Ty Cobb holds the Major League record with 11 batting titles, his last coming in 1919. The other six are Rod Carew (seven), Ted Williams (six), Nap Lajoie (five), Harry Heilmann (four), George Brett (three) and Tony Oliva (three). Only Oliva is not in the Hall of Fame.The modern standard-bearer is Tony Gwynn, who is tied with Honus Wagner for the NL record with eight batting titles. Gwynn's .338 lifetime batting average is the highest among any player whose career ended during the past 50 years or since Williams retired in 1960 with a .344 lifetime mark. Mauer is a .327 hitter in his first six big league seasons.
Three a magic number
Considering all this, the sky should be the limit for Mauer, but he seems to be a blip -- outside of the cognoscente -- on the national baseball scene. Despite all his numbers and the Twins making the playoffs with a thrilling play-in victory over the Tigers on Tuesday, he'll probably have a tough challenge for the AL MVP Award from Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, who've both had terrific years for the Yankees."Certainly, if he played in a market on either coast, he would get more publicity than he gets now," Dave St. Peter, the Twins' president, said on the field before Wednesday night's 7-2 Game 1 loss to the Yankees. "But I think Joe is recognized throughout the game as one of the premier players. He's appreciated for the way he approaches the game, on and off the field. That's evolved a lot in the last 24 months. He's become the face of our franchise." The Twins used the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft hoping that Mauer would eventually have that kind of impact. He excelled in baseball, basketball and football at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minn., and turned down a scholarship to play football at Florida State University to sign with the Twins, who drafted Mauer ahead of right-hander Mark Prior, who was taken by the Cubs with the No. 2 pick. Graduating from the same high school as Paul Molitor, Mauer set all kinds of baseball records there, hitting homers in seven consecutive games at one point. He batted .605 during his senior season and never hit below .500 in any of his four high-school years. Even so, the Twins brought him up slowly through their Minor League system and wanted to make sure he was ready when he came to the big leagues to stay in 2004. He has excelled since, although he could very well be a Paul Bunyan-esque character on Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion," the weekly National Public Radio variety show that is broadcast from Mauer's hometown of St. Paul.
|"It helps obviously when we're in the thick of things and we're trying to win. But I'm not a guy that needs to be in the media or be talked about. I'm just fine winning ballgames and doing little things like that."|
|-- Joe Mauer|
Mauer's the definition of the hometown hero, but the question remains how far that extends beyond Minnesota's borders."I don't think he's been overlooked," said Twins manager Rod Gardenhire. "Every article I've read on him says he's the obvious choice for MVP, because his numbers dominate everyone else. But that doesn't always mean anything in this league, because there is different definitions of what an MVP is. Is he a player that plays every day or a player on a winning team? If it's an individual award and not a team award, then Joe Mauer is definitely an MVP. That's the way I look at it." To be sure, Mauer acts like this is all much ado about nothing, and that attitude has had its effect around the rest of the country. "That's part of the business of playing in Minnesota," said Ken Macha, now the manager of the Brewers, but the A's skipper when Mauer broke in. "They've got to get their public-relations machine going to get his statistics out there. The Twins are not on national TV much, so I think the people who don't see him play every day aren't aware of what kind of player he is." How far the Twins can go in the postseason will play a part in all that, although voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America who select the MVP in both leagues are bound to have their ballots submitted by the end of the regular season. Two voters from each city vote for the MVP of their particular league. So any exposure Mauer garners this October may have a greater impact on 2010.
Even so, he was 2-for-4 with a pair of walks in Tuesday's 12-inning, 6-5 victory over the Tigers that was one of the most-watched tiebreaker games on TV in history. On Wednesday night against the Yankees, he was again 2-for-4 with a double, and scored from third with two outs in the third inning on one of the passed balls committed by Yanks catcher Jorge Posada."It shows you what kind of hitter he is," Posada said about Mauer's leadoff eighth-inning at-bat against reliever Phil Hughes. "With Hughes throwing all his pitches, he hadn't shown him a curveball yet. When he threw him a curveball, he got a base hit up the middle."
All that should help his national exposure, but does Mauer even care?"Not really," Mauer said. "It helps obviously when we're in the thick of things and we're trying to win. But I'm not a guy that needs to be in the media or be talked about. I'm just fine winning ballgames and doing little things like that."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.