Monday, March 22, 2010

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Joe Mauer

In the wake of Cornell becoming the first Ivy League school to reach the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 since the late Chuck Daly took the University of Pennsylvania to the Elite Eight in 1979 (before going on to pro glory with the Detroit Pistons); and the New York Rangers, yet again, sucking when they need to, you know, not suck, losing a big game to one of the team's ahead of them in the race for the last NHL Eastern Conference Playoff spot (and, in the process, losing a New York vs. Boston game, yet another shame on them), came some news that has disturbed some Yankee Fans.

No, I'm not talking about Mariano Rivera appearing in print ads for Canali clothes. He looks great in them, his usual classy self. After all, this is not a 1979 Sasson jeans commercial. (Thought I'd get in another swipe at the Rangers, who suck.)

The Minnesota Twins, desperate to keep catcher Joe Mauer beyond this, their first season at the new Target Field, signed him to a contract extension, $184 million for 8 years, keeping him in the Gopher State until October 2018.

This tells me three things. First, Twins owner Jim Pohlad has decided to not be a cheap team owner like his late father Carl, and also like the man Carl Pohlad bought the Twins from, Calvin Griffith, the man who moved the Washington Senators to Minneapolis-St. Paul (the "Twin Cities," hence the "TC" on the team's caps) in 1961.

The leading joke about Griffith's cheapness was that he went fishing at the beginning of walleye season (apparently a big deal in Minnesota, to the point where the Twins always ask to be scheduled for a roadtrip that weekend so people won't choose fishing over baseball), caught his legal limit, drove his haul to a supermarket, and traded it all for a box of Mrs. Paul's fish sticks, plus cash.

Unlike Calvin Griffith and Carl Pohlad, Jim Pohlad appears to be willing to spend what it takes to win. Therefore, he and his club deserve to win. Not more than the Yankees do, but then, that's my bias talking. I'd sooner take the Twins to win the World Series than about half, maybe even 2/3rds, of the teams in Major League Baseball.

Second, keeping Mauer is big for the Twins, because it shows, along with building Target Field to replace the asinine Metrodome, that they are committed, not just to staying in Minnesota, but to appealing to the State's pride in itself, which is immense (and for some good reasons).

Mauer is not just a great player, but also a hometowner, from St. Paul. It used to be that, except for Kent Hrbek, who grew up in Bloomington, within walking distance of the Twins' (and Vikings') former home of Metropolitan Stadium, the Twins usually only got Minneapolis-area natives who turned out to be great players at or near the ends of their careers: Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, Jack Morris. (Terry Steinbach wasn't a great player, but he was often good, and was another Minnesotan who came to the Twins late in his career.) These men were cheered more than the typical Twins player. Now, for these fans, Mauer is their guy, much more than the similarly talented Justin Morneau (from the Vancouver suburbs) or any of their other current players.

Third, it shows that the Twins are committed to not just playing winning baseball, but seriously competing for the American League Pennant (and, by definition, for the World Championship). You see, both the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox will need new starting catchers soon. In fact, you could argue that, with Jason Varitek (the Man In the Chicken-Wire Mask) crumbling by the day, the Sox need a new catcher right now. By contrast, Jorge Posada had one of his best seasons last year, and probably has at least one more good year left.

By re-signing Mauer, the Twins are not just keeping their best player, but stopping him from going to one of the AL's other big contenders. The Anaheim Angels (or whatever they're calling themselves this season) are set with Mike Napoli. But the Tampa Bay Rays appear to be sticking with Dioner Navarro, who last year had a hideous OPS+ of just 52 and has never had more than 54 RBIs in a season, so they could use a better catcher. At 25, he no longer seems like the catcher of the future, so how do the Yankees look now for having traded him away? The Detroit Tigers have Gerald Laird, and he's not much better. So the Rays and Tigers both need new catchers.

So should Yankee Fans be upset that they won't get Joe Mauer? Of course not. Posada is still an elite player, he's healthy at the moment, and he's still got that short porch in right field and the ability to switch-hit.

And every single preason baseball magazine seems to be suggesting that 20-year-old Yankee catching prospect Jesus Montero will be ready for the majors in just 1 year. Just in time to replace our beloved Jorge as starting catcher? Maybe, unless Jorge's got more than one good year left. That would only be a good thing, the equivalent of a football team drafting the replacement for their quarterbacking legend before it's necessary.

I just wish the Yanks had the next closer in place before Mariano finally declines... Joba Chamberlain? Phil Hughes? Somebody else? Find him! It's more important than deciding whether Joba or Phil should be the 5th starter!

Jorge has done everything the Yankees could ask of him. He's been a part of 5 World Championships, the regular starting catcher on 3 of them (or 4, depending on how you define it). No Yankee will ever again wear Number 20, and he's destined, if not for the Baseball Hall of Fame, then for Monument Park. I love him.

Actually, it's Laura Posada that I love... And, unlike some of my other hopeless celebrity crushes, I've actually met her. Remember the YES Network series Ultimate Road Trip? In their first season, 2005, they had a promotion at a Subway store on the East Side, with the Roadtrippers working there and raising money for the Posada Foundation, which funds research into childhood cranial malformations like the one that nearly killed Jorge Jr. as an infant. (At last check, he was still fine.)

It was advertised on the previous week's show, and I went there, met host Michelle Beadle and the Roadtrippers, got a sandwich (it was Subway, so it wasn't that good, there's only so much the Roadtrippers could do), and while I was there, Laura walked in. She probably wouldn't remember me, but I'll never forget her: She looks just as good in real life. (Roadtripper Dave called her "the hottest woman on the planet," and he's not far off.) So the good news is, I got to meet Michelle, the Roadtrippers, and Laura. The bad news is, when I watched the show with that scene a week and a half later, I didn't make it onscreen; and, apparently, Jorge walked in shortly after I left. Oh well.


So did the Yankees lose much by not getting Joe Mauer? Hard to say, since the Twins had another 7 months to extend him, and there's no guarantee that he wouldn't have been scooped up by the Red Scum.

But think of it this way: With Joe Mauer, the Twins are 2-9 in postseason games against the Yankees -- 6-18 overall. They haven't won a postseason series 2002, and only that one since that epic 1991 World Series. That was during the Bush Administration. The father's, not the son's.

Mauer might be a great player, but the Yankees have handled his teams. The Twins have won 5 AL Central Division Titles in the last 8 years, which is pretty strong. But they haven't won a Pennant since R.E.M. was losing its religion. That's 19 years now. Since then, AL Pennants have gone to the Yankees (7), Toronto (2, and they'd never won one before), Cleveland (2, and they hadn't won one in 41 years before that), Boston (2, and they hadn't won one in 18 years before that), Anaheim (they'd never won one before, 42 years), Tampa Bay (they'd never even had a winning season before, 11 years), Chicago (they hadn't won one in 46 years before that, and just that one in 86 years) and Detroit (they hadn't won one in 22 years before that, and just that one in 38 years).

So unless we start giving Division Titles the same credence we gave Pennants up until 1995 and the beginning of the Wild Card era (Atlanta Braves fans sure have given such credence), the Twins, while interesting, maybe even exciting, have been very disappointing. They've given their fans reason to hope, and their losses haven't exactly been heartbreaking or shocking (unless you count Game 2 of last year's ALDS, A-Rod's equalizer in the 9th and Teix's screaming liner to walk off in the 11th)... but those hopes have not been realized.

Joe Mauer? We don't need no stinkin' Joe Mauer! We've got Hip Hip Jorge, and then... Jesus saves!

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