Hi. I’m Mike. Some of you know me from other articles I’ve written here and elsewhere on SBNation. Others know me from Twitter (@MikeBatesSBN). Still others might remember a site called The Platoon Advantage, which still exists in theory. A whole lot of others probably don’t know me at all. In which case, again, Hi. I’m Mike. Onward and possibly upward.
In the middle of another lost season, it’s become too easy to criticize Joe Mauer for it to be any fun. Whether it’s his RBI total, or his strikeouts, or his injury problems (though he had started 71 of 76 before this oblique injury shut him down), the possible future Hall of Famer has become the whipping boy for a lot of fans and the target of a lot of anger over yet another disappointing season at Target Field. Frankly, he deserves those criticisms, though probably not the invectives that question his attitude and toughness, and definitely not the revisionist history that tries to suggest that he was somehow not the most important part of the Twins’ success from 2006-2010.
Mauer’s latest injury, however, highlights another problem within the Twins organization. Ron Gardenhire was under the gun last year, but was rewarded with a two year contract extension at the end of last season. In light of his history of success in the organization, it’s easy to understand why Terry Ryan and Jim Pohlad made that decision: Gardenhire did not get in the way of the club’s winning, wasn’t responsible for its losing, and generally seems to keep an orderly and happy clubhouse.
When asked about Mauer’s oblique injury, Gardy was surprised, telling reporters, "Never even heard about it. That’s why it wasn’t anything to worry about. He’s been doing a lot of extra work with his swing. You know he’s been through his struggles. He’s been doing a lot of extra drills and just said he was sore from swinging. I thought it was his back. I really did. … Didn’t really know anything about any soreness in his side, and then here we go."
That, friends, is a problem, and a familiar one. Did Mauer report his soreness to the trainers? Did the trainers not pass along the problem to Gardenhire or misdiagnose it? Could Gardy have done anything different to prevent Mauer’s strained oblique? All of those are important questions that we haven’t heard the answers to, but ultimately don’t affect the underlying issue: With his best player nursing an injury for a week, Ron Gardenhire didn’t know what was going on.
This has been a recurring issue for half a decade now. Time and again, players have concealed or tried to play through injuries (hell, Mike Pelfrey just did it this year) or tried to come back too early from concussions or arm problems. Vance Worley, currently sporting a 2.28 ERA in Pittsburgh, just revealed he was allowed to pitch through pain at the start of 2013, despite not being fully recovered from elbow surgery. Morneau and Span’s concussions, Mauer’s legs, Baker and Neshek’s elbows, Slowey and Rincon’s shoulders. This is the tip of the iceberg. For reasons that aren’t clear, Twins players continue to live in a culture that either doesn’t take their injuries seriously or encourages them to keep quiet about what’s bothering them until something catastrophic, with the potential to alter careers, sidelines them for much longer.
The Twins have changed their medical staff. They’ve shuffled their coaches. They’ve rotated between two general managers. Ultimately, the one constant is Gardy. He is the closest official to his players. They ostensibly are supposed to take their lead from him. It’s time for Ron Gardenhire to make it clear that he’s worried about his players, that he wants them to report every ache and pain, and that he wants to be kept apprised of his team’s health. He needs to convince his players and medical staff that disclosing and properly treating injuries is in their best interest, and the best interests of the whole organization. If he won’t do it, it’s time to find someone who will.