One of the difficult things about rooting for a superstar that is not from one of the big cities like Chicago, New York or Los Angeles, is that your home town hero may not get the credit that he or she so richly deserves.
Minnesota Twins fans know this to be true having witnessed Bert Blyleven’s name not being circled on enough Hall-of-Fame ballots the past 12 years; to get into the Hall despite amassing 3,701 strikeouts and 287 wins.
While its probably normal to be depressed after All-Star closer Joe Nathan blows a save by giving up two consecutive home-runs, after twice being within one strike of winning the game, I couldn’t fight the feeling in my gut that more bad news was on the way.
Reading today’s New York Times, I knew what was causing the knot in my stomach.
Derek Jeter is planning on sweeping in during the last few weeks of the season to take the American League Most Valuable Player Award from Joe Mauer.
Can it really happen? Can Joe Mauer flirt with .400, hit nearly 30 HR’s and knock in 100 RBI’s and not win the AL MVP Award?
Unfortunately for Twins fans, the answer is yes; as Derek Jeter could make a late season charge to win the award.
First, Jeter is raising his profile above the crowd on the biggest stage in baseball just as the voters are focusing their attention on the award.
He's on the verge of breaking the all-time New York Yankee hits record of Yankee legend Lou Gehrig. Jeter standing at 2,713 hits is only 8 hits behind Gehrig. The schedule all but ensures that Jeter will break the record at Yankee Stadium.
ESPN will likely devote significant air time to Jeter’s accomplishment – clearly, the top play of the day and a topic for the Sports Reporters.
Eclipsing Gehrig on any hit list is undoubtedly significant. I just wish Jeter had broken the record in the middle of June so that we all could have forgotten about it, like all of the other things we forgot we did in June of this year. You know, like when Jeter broke Babe Ruth’s Yankee record for most doubles in a career on June 23rd.
Second, Jeter is finishing the season on a strong note.
Currently, Jeter is batting .332, with 17 HR’s and 61 RBI’s. Since June 25th, he's been hitting .369 and had 46 hits in the month of August. All on the heels of his 35th birthday.
The second half of the season in the American League has belonged to the Yankees, and it is difficult to argue that the Captain of the Yankees is not main reason for their rise, and why they'll win more than 100 games this year.
Mauer’s best statistical month of the season happened in May, when he batted .414 with 11 HRs and 32 RBI’s.
Mauer’s statistics were amazing as he came out of the gate, hot despite not having the benefit of spring training. Unfortunately, Mauer’s performance appears to have had no impact on the Twins playoff chances as the team went 14 – 16 in May.
Third, Jeter is a very popular player who has never won an AL MVP award and his window to win the MVP is closing.
Some of the voters will conclude that Jeter at 35, will unlikely have another MVP season, and that he deserves one MVP award on his mantle.
Mauer is 26, and therefore, he hasn’t hit his prime and will have several more productive years and opportunities to win the award. (If you are not a Twins fan, the prior sentence must have been terrifying to read).
There is not a popularity component as part of the criteria for the AL MVP award, yet it is difficult to argue that a player’s popularity among the writers does not impact MVP voting.
For example, Barry Bonds (.294, 33 HR’s, 104 RBI) in the 1995 NL MVP race finished 12th in the voting behind the eventual winner Barry Larkin (.319, 15 HR’s, 66 RBI).
No, Mauer is not portrayed as a bad guy in the media like Bonds. The fear I have for Mauer among the media is that they know of Mauer, but do not know Mauer.
Quick, what is the signature play for Mauer?
If you are not a Twins fan your mind likely went blank, or maybe you thought of a single buzzing over the head of the opposing pitcher.
Hopefully, you didn’t think of this year’s All-Star home run derby.
Ok, what is the signature play for Jeter? Several come to mind; personally I see Jeter making a back handed toss to the plate to allow Posada to tag out Jeremy Giambi in a Division Series playoff game.
Oh, you watch ESPN Sunday night baseball - then you pictured Jeter splitting his chin while diving into the stands against the Boston Red Sox.
Or did you remember him winning it all and hoisting the World Series trophy?
Finally, Jeter is playing for the team with the best record in the American League and is poised to contend for a World Series title, whereas the Twins are fighting to make the playoffs.
Again, there is no requirement that the AL MVP come from a playoff team, as the voting is based solely on the performance of the players during the regular season.
Unfortunately, the number of players who have won the AL MVP and not played for a team that saw post season action are few.
Could Joe not win the MVP if the Twins fail to make the playoffs?
I could feel the knot in my stomach getting tighter until I remembered that Joe, could still win the MVP even if the Twins didn’t make the playoffs given that Rod Carew in 1977, won the award when he batted .388, and the Twins stayed home during the post-season.
I also felt better after reading Dan Wade’s article, “Does Joe Mauer’s Uniqueness Hurt His MVP Chances.”
Statistically, no one can really argue that Mauer is not the most productive offensive player in the league, or even argue that Mauer is not the best defensive catcher in the league.
Of course, I will feel better after the Twins clinch the Central Division title.
Besides, what would be a better way to celebrate the return of outdoor baseball in Minnesota next year than with the AL MVP Award?