Joe Mauer Wins AL MVP, Still Overshadowed By the Likes of Matt Wieters and Bryce Harper
With a fan base that includes Ichiro, Cal Ripken, Paul Molitor, Elton John, and virtually every scout, GM, and Manager in the game, it's fairly easy to see why it doesn't bother him.
While Bryce Harper was hitting 500 Ft. Batting Practice moon shots at Tropicana field, Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon raved about a different Catcher, “I think when God made his blueprint for catchers, he stamped Joe out." (2006, Sports Illustrated). Paul Molitor has said on numerous occasions that Mauer has the best swing he's ever seen. Ichiro told a Japanese news paper that Joe is the only player he doesn't mind losing a batting title to. During his first spring training, the 18-year old Mauer was giving hitting advice to veterans like Torii Hunter. Perhaps most impressive, he has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice without being jinxed!
As a Minnesotan, I didn't need the announcement that Joe Mauer was the 2009 American League MVP to tell me how good he is. Even an MVP Award doesn't do justice to this real life version of “The Natural". The greatest athletes of All-Time all have a singular quality in common, the ability to slow the game down. To block out the surrounding noise and enter that mythical realm known as “The Zone". Many athletes briefly experience the feeling of being “locked in" only to be “locked out" a few games later. To players like Mauer, being “locked in" is who they are, being anything else feels un-natural.
The term “The Natural" isn't thrown around lightly, in the case of Joe Mauer, there is no other word to describe him. In 2001 Mauer became the first player ever named the "Gator Aide Player of the Year" in both Football and Baseball, he also was the U.S. Today's Player of the year in Football, National High School Quarterback of the Year by the Quarterback Club, and too many other awards to list . As the Quarterback of St. Paul's Cretin Derham Hall (Chris Weinke, Steve Walsh), he led the Raiders to consecutive state title games, winning his first and losing his second to perennial powerhouse Eden Prairie (Coached by Mike Grant, son of Bud Grant). In Baseball he batted over .600 his Senior year and ended his high school career striking just once! He also tied a state record by hitting a Home Run in 7 straight games. To fill time in between Football and Baseball seasons, he played a little hoops. During his Junior and Senior seasons he averaged over 20 points per game and was named to the All-State team both years.
In 2001, Mauer had two choices for what to do after High School, be the #1 pick in the Major League Baseball Draft or be the starting Quarterback as a true Freshman for Florida State. To this day Mauer's choice devastates Seminoles Head Coach Bobby Bowden. At the time, taking Mauer over USC's Mark Prior was considered by many to be a money saving move. To Twins General Manager Terry Ryan and anyone who lived in the state of Minnesota, it was not only the right move, it was the only move.
In 2003, at the age of 20 Mauer became just the fifth player in Major League History under 21 to start at catcher. In 2006 he became the first Catcher to lead the Majors in hitting (.347). In 2008, he became the first A.L. Catcher to win 2 Batting titles. Then in 2009, he had a season for the ages. After missing the first month of the season, he became the first Catcher to lead baseball in Batting Average, On Base Percentage, and Slugging Percentage. His .365 Avg. not only won him a third batting title, it set the major league record for highest ever by a Catcher. In 2009, he also made his third all-star team, recieved a second consecutive gold glove, and won the AL MVP in a landslide (37/38 Votes).
Despite his success, there are still people who wonder "what could have been". Many feel the 27 year old Mauer picked the wrong sport, that he was better at tossing the ball to a Wide Reciever than back to the mound. There were scouts who believed he was the second coming of Peyton Manning. Before Brett Favre arrived, many including myself joked that Mauer was the best Quarterback in the state of Minnesota. If Kurt Warner could go from bagging groceries to winning a Super Bowl, the story of Joe Mauer going from AL MVP to winning a Super Bowl didn't seem near as far fetched. Anyone who's seen what this guy is capable of wouldn't put it past him.
If your collection is about gathering Rookies of All-Time Greats, get your Mauer before it will cost you 10 A-Rod SP's! As a collector, I own a 1993 Derek Jeter SP, a 2001 Bowman Albert Pujols RC, and other players I consider to be great. While others are chasing the "next big thing", you can have "the big thing".
Since his debut in 2003, the whispers of the best kept secret in sports keeps getting louder. Watching Mauer play the game is like watching an instructional video on how to play the game of baseball. If you have kids and want to teach them how to play the game, have them watch Joe Mauer, the everyday Joe, who has a habit of doing extraordinary things.
Suggested Cards: 2002 Bowman Chrome Auto RC #391 ($100-$175), 2002 Bowman's Best Auto RC ($75-$150)