November 23, 2009
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Joe Mauer

Joe Mauer

by Brad Eastland, T.S.P.



      Hero worship.   It’s a good thing.   Growing up with good and talented people to look up to, it’s what shapes a young man’s character.   My first hero was John Glenn.   Good choice.   A crisp, clean-cut, ex-fighter pilot from Ohio flying around in a space capsule.   Now that’s a hero.

      My son has heroes.   I guess.   I believe that this week his heroes are Bart Simpson, Homer Simpson, and that hairy, hard-drinking, cigarette-sucking foul-mouthed chap with the stupid stove-pipe hat who used to play guitar for Guns N’ Roses.   Not exactly rock-ribbed characters right out of The Right Stuff….

      I always wanted my boy to have baseball heroes.   I think that’s what comes from being born and raised in the Midwest.   Baseball has a wonderful tradition of producing great athletes who were also princely men of godlike character; Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente.   The best of men.   Saints in cleats.

      Unfortunately, the idea of a “modern” baseball hero is something of an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms.   The media is partly to blame.   In this era, the instant-news, no-privacy, ESPN Age, we wind up knowing pretty much everything about everyone in sports, which is not always a good thing, because it reveals the sad, simple truth that our sports stars are every bit as flawed as we are.   Often more so, because they have the money to feed and grow their vices.   Not to mention feeding the huge egos which usually produce a feeling of irresistible entitlement in the rich and famous, the notion that if you have talent you can get away with virtually anything and, what’s more, you should be allowed to.  

      Steroids is the other villain.   The constant media-generated whine about “performance enhancing” drugs has taken a lot of the fun out of the game.   Many of the greatest players of the “modern” era—including Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Andy Pettitte, and Rafael Palmeiro—have been connected in some manner and to some degree with Steroids.   Kids grow up thinking that the very best players seem to be succeeding only by doing things the disreputable, despicable, dishonest way.   (And of course I’m not even counting the spoiled brat millionaires who routinely get thrown in jail for far worse offenses.)   

      How am I supposed to encourage my son to worship one of them?   Seriously.   I’ve had a heck of a time trying to find a ballplayer worthy of my boy’s joyous, unconditional adulation.

      Well, I think I’ve finally found one.

      There’s a young man playing baseball way up in Minnesota named Joe Mauer.   There’s a chance you haven’t heard of him.   That’s what happens when you play ball in Minnesota.   It’s like playing out your whole career in the Witness Protection Program.

      But let me tell you true, this regular Joe is the real deal.

      Joe Mauer is a catcher.   A good one.   He won a Gold Glove last week, meaning he is the best-fielding catcher in the American League.  (In fact he’s won the Gold Glove two years in a row now.)   But it’s as a batter that he has no peer.   His batting average this year was .365; that’s the highest in history for a catcher.   The previous record holder, Mike Piazza, the ex-Dodger, hit .362 in 1997, but Piazza was also just about the worst-fielding catcher of all time.   Piazza wasn’t so much a catcher as he was a guy they stuck behind the plate because he couldn’t play anywhere else and he was too good a hitter to sit on the bench.   But Mauer can play the field with the best of them, hit for average, and hit for power.   He banged out 28 home runs this year.   He also led the league in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage.   No catcher has ever done that.  

      In his six short years in the majors, Mauer has already won the American League batting title three times.   That’s impressive enough.   But when you re-consider that he is a catcher, meaning he has to squat and re-squat about a hundred times a game, while wearing a bunch of heavy, cumbersome equipment, all the while being bruised and battered by baseballs in the dirt or foul-tipped off of his thighs, knees, shins, and busted fingers, all the while immersing himself in the handling, coddling, and stress-management of whatever pitcher is on the mound, well, I think that being able to concurrently produce the highest batting average in his league is a feat which borders on the miraculous.   The stupendous.   Folks, I’m talkin’ by-god nearly impossible here.   Like coaxing a literate, informed, or accurate sentence out of Sarah Palin.   Or sitting through an hour of Reality TV without wanting to blow your brains out.   You know.   Impossible.

      Mauer is one of only three catchers to ever win a batting title.   That’s how hard it is.   Eugene “Bubbles” Hargrave did the trick in 1926, Ernie “The Schnozz” Lombardi won batting crowns in both 1938 and 1942 (Lombardi is also generally considered to be the slowest-footed man to ever play professional baseball; I just felt like mentioning that.), and Mauer.   Which means Super Joe has won three of the six batting titles pro catchers have ever won, ever, throughout the entire expanse of the 140 glorious years they have been playing Major League ball.   And he’s only 26 years old.

      And those are just his numbers.   The great thing about rooting for Joe Mauer is that there are no scandals attached to his name.  No Steroids.   No arrests.   No wife beatings, drunk driving escapades, drug rehab revelations, sex scandals, not even the utter scandal of openly refusing a wide-eyed little boy an autograph.   Not yet.   In other words, it’s completely guilt-free rooting.   Feels wonderful.

      He also looks like a hero.   He’s tall.   He’s handsome.   He has a nice smile.   He’s got Elvis-like sideburns.   Did I mention he was tall?   Six feet five inches of pure athletic god.   Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra was only five-eight.   Even the great and ruggedly powerful Johnny Bench was only six-one.   Pygmies by comparison.   Runts.    Shrimps.

      If you don’t count the Babe-Ruth-like Negro Leagues legend Josh Gibson, Joe might turn out to be the greatest all-around catcher ever.   Frankly, I think he’s already halfway there. 

      Okay.   Here endeth the teaching portion of my Joe Mauer column.   Time to convert this knowledge into action.   If this kid played in New York or L.A. they’d already have a couple of Joe Mauer statues sculpted and a Joe Mauer movie or two already in the can.   Because he’s the complete package, people.   Unparalleled brilliance on the field, the model of moral, clean-living off the field.   He’s what parents dream of for their children to worship and emulate, this kid Mauer; a by-god, guilt-free, ready-made hero.

      At least that’s how I’m going to try and sell him to my kid….

      How ‘bout the rest of you parents out there?   Gonna tell your kids all about Joe Mauer, are you?   Are you with me?

     Good for you.   And when you talk to your kid, just make sure to get the spelling and pronunciation right.   It’s M-A-U-E-R.   Mauer.   Rhymes with power.



P.S.—They’re scheduled to announce the winner of the 2009 American League Most Valuable Player award later today.   Wouldn’t it be great if they gave it to, oh I don’t know, say, Joe Mauer?   Stay tuned.

image0021The Sports Philosopher

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, sports nut, and hero-worshipper, in no particular order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written four novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of Brad’s fiction work can be discovered within the links below:








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