Mauer re­tir­ing af­ter 15 sea­sons with Twins

The Maui News - - SPORTS - By DAVE CAMP­BELL The As­so­ci­ated Press

MIN­NEAPO­LIS — Joe Mauer is re­tir­ing af­ter 15 ma­jor league sea­sons, six All-Star games, three Gold Glove awards, three bat­ting ti­tles and 2,123 ca­reer hits, all with his home­town Min­nesota Twins.

“Thank you, Min­nesota Twins, and thank you, fans, for mak­ing my ca­reer as spe­cial and mem­o­rable as it was,” Mauer wrote in a full-page ad that will run Sun­day in the Min­neapo­lis Star Tri­bune and St. Paul Pi­o­neer Press. “Be­cause of you I can leave the game I love with a full and grate­ful heart.”

Mauer’s eight-year, $184 mil­lion con­tract ex­pired the day af­ter the World Se­ries ended, cre­at­ing a nat­u­ral part­ing from the game he grew up with in St. Paul, less than 10 miles from the down­town Min­neapo­lis ball­parks he called home with the Twins.

“The de­ci­sion came down to my health and my fam­ily,” Mauer wrote. “The risk of a con­cus­sion is al­ways there, and I was re­minded of that this sea­son when I missed 30 games as a re­sult of div­ing for a foul ball. That’s all it took this time around and it was all I need to bring me back to the strug­gles I faced in 2013.”

The first over­all pick in the 2001 draft out of Cretin-Der­ham Hall High School, the same pro­gram that pro­duced Hall of Famer Paul Moli­tor, Mauer made his de­but at the Metrodome on April 5, 2004, two weeks be­fore his 21st birth­day. He signed his megadeal three weeks be­fore the Twins be­gan play­ing at Tar­get Field.

Mauer ac­knowl­edged down the stretch this sea­son he wasn’t sure yet whether he was in­ter­ested in con­tin­u­ing to play, with twin 5-year-old daugh­ters at home and a third child on the way for him and his wife, Mad­die. Then came the fi­nal game of the sea­son on Sept. 30, when he dou­bled in his last at­bat and donned his catcher’s gear to sym­bol­i­cally take one more pitch in the top of the ninth in­ning as he tear­fully waved to the adorn­ing crowd. Not many play­ers could ex­pe­ri­ence a farewell more poignant than that.

What made the mo­ment so emo­tional was the fact that Mauer hadn’t been be­hind the plate since Aug. 19, 2013, when a foul tip banged off his mask and trig­gered a con­cus­sion that forced him to move to first base

“The con­cus­sion I ex­pe­ri­enced that sea­son not only changed my life pro­fes­sion­ally with a move to first base, but changed me per­son­ally as well,” Mauer wrote.

While his ath­leti­cism — he had a schol­ar­ship wait­ing for him to play quar­ter­back at Florida State and was a sharp­shoot­ing guard on the bas­ket­ball team in high school — al­lowed for a rel­a­tively smooth tran­si­tion on de­fense, the ef­fects of the head in­jury robbed him of his prow­ess at the plate for most of the next three years.

As a catcher, eas­ily the game’s most de­mand­ing and dan­ger­ous po­si­tion, Mauer’s of­fen­sive abil­ity was Hall of Fame-wor­thy. In 2006, he be­came the first catcher to lead the league in bat­ting av­er­age since 1942. He did so again in 2008 and in 2009, when he hit .365 with a .444 on-base per­cent­age and a .587 slug­ging per­cent­age to top the AL in all three cat­e­gories and win the MVP award. In Mauer’s last 10 games as a catcher be­fore the con­cus­sion in 2013, he went 17-for-43 with three dou­bles, three homers and nine RBIs.

Stay­ing healthy be­came a chal­lenge, how­ever.

His re­nais­sance came in 2017 as the Twins went from 59-103 to 85-77 and a spot in the AL wild card game, bat­ting .305 with 36 dou­bles, the sec­ond-high­est to­tal of his ca­reer. That made it easy to see Mauer play­ing be­yond 2018, but in the end he opted to walk away with a .306 bat­ting av­er­age and a place in the top five on the team’s ca­reer lists in a clear ma­jor­ity of of­fen­sive cat­e­gories. Mauer is their all-time leader in dou­bles and times on base and sec­ond in hits be­hind Kirby Puck­ett.

AP file photo

Joe Mauer dons catcher’s gear to catch a pitch in the ninth in­ning of the Twins’ sea­son-end­ing 5-4 win over the White Sox on Sept. 30.

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