Friday evening was a tough one for the baseball world with the game reminding all of us of our mortality, as it is wont to do. Although it wasn’t a huge surprise, it’s always jarring when it is made official. That is, Joe Mauer is walking away from the game. One of the most underappreciated players of his time made the announcement last night, and he released this letter to Twins fans. Mauer is a true throwback as a contact-oriented hitter whose game fits less and less with the modern MLB aesthetic, and also as someone who spent his entire career with one team. It’s a rare and special connection between fan and player, and you can see that come through with that statement. Mauer is certainly going to be in the Hall of Fame within the next seven years or so, but it seems as if players like him are too often only properly-appreciated at times like these.
Mauer was, quite simply, one of the very best players of his generation and for a time he looked like a future inner-circle, first-ballot Hall of Famer. He’s not at that point anymore, but that was largely out of his control. Over the first ten years of his career, Mauer hit a wildly impressive .323/.405/.468 and was 35 percent better than the league-average hitter. Oh, and most of that came as a catcher. For some context, no catcher has hit that well in a single season since 2014, and only 12 have done so with at least 350 plate appearances since 2010. Unfortunately, concussion issues eventually caught up with Mauer, and he had to leave the catcher position to play first base. His relative lack of power didn’t play as well there, and a weirdly vocal portion of the Minnesota fan base used that and his contract against him whenever they could. On a national level, the view of Mauer wasn’t much more fair, if it all.
The lack of appreciation for Mauer during the second half of his career was always frustrating, in no small part because injuries had been the reason for his downfall. It’s refreshing, though, that we can now properly contextualize just how great of a story Mauer was. A hometown kid spending his entire Hall of Fame career with the team he grew up rooting for. One of the best pure hitters the game has ever seen, and the guy you’re always told is your favorite player’s favorite player. Mauer was one of the best players of his time, plain and simple, and that’s with head injuries essentially taking away his 30’s. We’ll never know what truly could have been, but we know that it was a tremendous career either way.