Somewhere in the bowels of the soon-to-be vacant Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome there is a player who is quietly having one of the most spectacular offensive seasons in Major League history, and yet, almost no one is recognizing the tremendous numbers that Joe Mauer has put up in 2009.
Mauer enters tonight’s showdown with the American League Central-leading Detroit Tigers hitting at a just silly clip of .374 for the year with 27 homers and 87 RBIs. Name the last catcher to have that kind of season?
That’s right, no catcher has ever hit like this before. Not Johnny Bench, not Yogi Berra, not Carlton Fisk. In fact, name the last player to hit .375 with 30 homers and 100 RBI. It’s only happened to three players in Major League history, four times by Babe Ruth, and once a piece by Ted Williams and Stan Musial.
That’s pretty amazing company for the somewhat underappreciated Twins catcher to be in.
In spite of these facts though, Mauer has only been getting sniffs of the MVP talk. This is a combination of several things. One is that the Twins are a mediocre 74-72 right now, but with a few wins over the Tigers down the stretch, they could sneak into the playoffs.
Another is that he doesn’t get the exposure of players like Mark Teixeira because he plays in small-market Minnesota. The last is that his numbers aren’t legitimate because he missed all of April with an injury.
The small-market argument is probably the most compelling argument of the bunch. It’s extremely difficult to escape the so-called East Coast Bias that exists through media outlets like ESPN.
Also, the reach of both the fanbase of the Yankees and the expansive national and international coverage that New York receives dwarfs anything the Minneapolis Star-Tribune can do for Mauer and the Twinkies.
The injury argument is one that can be looked at with respect to its face value. Yes, Mauer missed a month’s time and therefore his numbers might be inflated.
However, I take the position that it’s that much more impressive that a guy could miss all of spring training and the first month of the season and get thrown right back into the fire and play at as high a level as Mauer has this year.
It just doesn’t happen. I think that when all is said and done that Mauer has the ability to become the greatest offensive catcher in the history of the game.
So what does Mauer and/or the Twins have to do so that their star catcher snags the MVP award? Well for starters, the Twins have to make the playoffs Justin Morneau won the AL MVP in '06. Could his season-ending injury actually help Joe Mauer and become relevant in the national baseball picture this year?
They’ll have plenty of opportunities as they face the Tigers seven times in their final sixteen games. Also, it’s crucial that they don’t get swept out of the playoffs if they happen to make it.
Assuming they play the Yankees in the Divisional Series, they face an uphill battle, as they are a robust 0-7 against New York this year. However, regular season series has proved to be unimportant in the past (see Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees, 2007 playoffs).
Other than that, Mauer can certainly help himself by getting on a hot streak over the remainder of the regular season that pushes his numbers to that .375/30/100 level, which would look even better considering that he no longer has Justin Morneau in the middle of the lineup with him.
That by itself might be just enough to push him over the top with voters, regardless of the Twins making the playoffs or not.