After missing the 2009 playoffs due to a stress fracture in his back, the 2006 AL MVP was playing for a championship-calibur team in brand new Target Field, and he was voted to his fourth straight All-Star Game after posting a .345 batting average and having a major-league leading .437 on-base percentage and .617 slugging percentage at the All-Star break.
Then, on July 7 in a game in Toronto, everything changed. Trailing by a run in the top of the eighth inning with Morneau on first, Michael Cuddyer hit into a fielder's choice with Morneau sliding into second to break up the double play. As Morneau slid, his head collided with Toronto second baseman John McDonald's knee as McDonald tried to leap over him. Morneau left the game after what seemed like a precautionary measure. But Morneau wouldn't return to the field that season.
Morneau had suffered a concussion: a potentially devastating, career-threatening, life-altering injury that you can't put a brace on or have surgery to repair. What appeared to be an innocent knock to the head had Morneau battling headaches, vertigo, nausea and mental lapses.
Likely, this wasn't Morneau's first concussion. Growing up in Canada and playing hockey, Morneau likely suffered multiple concussions. People with multiple concussions are at greater risk for more of them, with each one putting the recipient at greater risk for long-term brain damage.
Twins fans were constantly reminded of former third baseman and fan favorite Corey Koskie, who was forced to retire due to post-concussion symptoms while playing for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2007.
After Morneau had "recovered" from his concussion in 2011, he still couldn't stay on the field. He suffered from a sore wrist that would later require surgery, and he recently had neck surgery mid-season that caused him to miss two months.
But the coup de grâce came on Aug. 29 against the Chicago White Sox on a play in which Morneau not only injured his shoulder diving for a ground ball, but also suffered another mild concussion that would sideline him for the rest of the season.
The top story for the Minnesota Twins during 2012 Spring Training was whether or not Morneau would be back. Morneau even hinted that he might retire if the concussion symptoms lingered.
But there he was: the Opening Day DH, going 1-for-4. But from a fan perspective, Morneau was a time bomb waiting to explode.
Morneau matched his 2011 home run total in April 2012 with four. He played his familiar first base position for the first time that season on April 17, and it seemed like he was beginning to regain his old form.He hit .315 in July as he entered a post-concussion state of mid-season form. Everyone kept waiting for Morneau to break down.
But he never did.
Morneau finished the 2012 season appearing in 136 games, batting .267 with 19 home runs, 77 RBI, and an .771 OPS.
While the numbers aren't impressive for a Morneau season, they are incredible for an athlete who has suffered two concussions in the past year and a half, and who was on the brink of retiring because of them.