Joe Mauer was a baseball rarity, someone who spent his entire career with the same team, and in his home state, no less.
After 15 seasons with the Twins — including six as an All-Star catcher, seasons so strong that they will move him into Hall of Fame consideration — Mauer retired Friday at age 35, fearful of another concussion.
“I played with Joe for seven years, and even longer than that if you count a couple spring trainings,” said former teammate Brian Dozier. “When you talk to younger guys about what it takes to be a professional baseball player, I think you can say two words: Joe Mauer. That’s what kind of player you want to have in your organization.
“He’s the man, in all facets of the game.”
St. Paul born and raised, Mauer was likely the best all-around high school athlete in state history. He was a national player of the year in both football and baseball and all-state in basketball at Cretin Derham Hall. He chose baseball, signing with the Twins after they took him No. 1 in the 2001 draft.
He made his major league debut in 2004, earning consideration as the state’s most popular athlete as the Twins earned playoff berths and made the move from the antiquated Metrodome to sparkling new Target Field in 2010.
“Baseball is about so much more than winning or losing,” he wrote in his farewell letter. “It’s about so much more than personal stats and accolades. For me, it’s about the life lessons I learned along the way. It’s about the struggles and triumphs that put things into perspective.”
Mauer was known for his patience at the plate, his smooth lefthanded swing and his calm demeanor. He did the little things well; a savvy baserunner, he was a Gold Glove winner at catcher and, after moving to first base, became Gold Glove-caliber at that position as well.
Glen Perkins has known Mauer most of his life, even pitched to him in high school games around the Twin Cities. So when they both became major leaguers, Perkins said, it didn’t occur to him how unusual Mauer’s talent was.
“I took it for granted because I saw him every day. I saw him for years,” said Perkins, the Twins’ former closer and a three-time All-Star. “It never struck me how good he was until the World Baseball Classic. I’m standing in the outfield with other pitchers during batting practice, and they’re saying, ‘He is so unbelievable. The ball hits the barrel every time.’ It was eye-opening for me. I didn’t realize how revered he was. I had played with him since high school, so to me, he’s just Joe.”
Mauer last caught in 2013, moving to first base because of concussion issues. He suffered another concussion during the 2018 season, which he said in his letter helped seal his decision.
His final at-bat came on an opposite-field double at Target Field against the White Sox on Sept. 30, leaving his career batting average at .306.
“In this world of professional sports there are only so many role models like Joe Mauer,” said Twins outfielder Robbie Grossman. “It’s an honor to play with a guy who has done so much for the game on and off the field and just a class act.
“Look at the last at-bat he had. That was a perfect Joe Mauer at-bat. If you want to remember a Joe Mauer at-bat, that last at-bat when he hit that double on the 3-2 pitch was amazing.”
Mauer made history by becoming the only catcher in major league history to win three batting titles.
After Mauer left his final game wearing catching gear for the first time since 2013, his friends and teammates suspected he was headed for retirement, but many also hoped he would return to play.
“Me and Joe had a lot of talks leading up to it this whole year, and where he was at,” said Dozier, who was traded to the Dodgers in late July and played in the World Series. “I didn’t know if he was actually going to or not. Watching from afar and seeing all the things that happened when he got to go back in and caught, I knew that he probably had made the decision.
“But, I can tell you, he can play for many more years. That bat still plays.”
Reaction from the baseball community lit up social media.
“Joe Mauer … you have always gotten it! Great career!! Better person!! You know who you are and have stayed true to your values!!” tweeted Frank Viola, a hero of the Twins’ 1987 World Series champions.
Eric Hosmer of the Padres, who battled Mauer for many seasons while playing with the Royals, tweeted: “Nothing but respect Joe! You were an MVP on and off the field. Good luck with the next chapter.”
Twins special assistant Michael Cuddyer, a longtime teammate, told MLB Radio, “I can’t think of a single person who represented an organization, a community and his city as well as Joe did.”