This past Saturday, I watched—along with all of us Twinkie Towners, and the sellout crowd at Target Field—the Joe Mauer festivities culminating with his #7 forever immortalized in franchise history. What really struck me while viewing the ceremony was how beloved Mauer was/is by most Twins fans despite not really being “the best” in any given category (at least when compared to fellow Twins legends). Consider…
-Mauer isn’t quite the best overall or most beloved Minnesota Twin. That honor, though subjective from person to person of course, is probably still most held by Kirby Puckett.
-He certainly isn’t the most powerful of the “MN Retired Number Club”, not with Harmon Killebrew inspiring “ten pages of clear blue sky” with his majestic moonshots.
-Best pure hitter? Close, maybe, but I think Rod Carew has him beat by a smidge in that category.
-In terms of charisma, Mauer’s milk-guzzling, family-loving, soft-spoken persona did indeed endear him to Minnesotan folk, but it can’t really match the general cheeriness of Tony Oliva, the “everyman”, let-it-all-hang-out Kent Hrbek, or even the odd quirkiness of Tom Kelly.
What does this all speak to in terms of that round, baseball-shaped #7 now hanging down the left field line? Two things…
- Despite Mauer not necessarily being “A-1” in any of the above categories, he’s more than respectable in all of them. His 143 home runs are at least a decent number, and his 2,123 hits, .306 BA, .388 OBP, & .827 OPS—not to mention three batting titles—easily show his overall skill with the bat. He didn’t necessarily have the opportunities afforded to Puckett in terms of postseason heroics, and over time I feel like his personality, at least perception-wise, did go from “this is the most boring guy on the planet” to “this is a guy who is just shy/humble and doesn’t really enjoy the media spotlight”.
- Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher is most often-credited as coining the phrase “nice guys finish last”. Joe Mauer is perhaps the clearest example of that being a complete and utter falsity. Never once in his career was he involved in even a whiff of scandal, and I’ve never heard a bad word uttered about him by one of his acquaintances. The cynical among us may have griped about his contract or declining performance (due to impossibly high standards, concussions, and age), but a sellout crowd for his number retirement speaks volumes.
To me, then, what Joe Mauer will always stand for is a great player who can now be considered immortal because of his overall consistency and “nice guy” attitude rather than in spite of it. I think it is important in all sports communities, but perhaps even just a bit more so in the Midwest, to have players about whom parents can turn to their children and say, “see him/her? That is how you participate in sports, both on the field and off of it”. I quite literally cannot think of a better personification of that attitude/talent than Joe Mauer, which is in large part why his single digit will never be donned by a Twin again. The combination of talent and kindness can indeed take one to the pinnacle of sports fame and achievement.