On June 5, Twins first baseman Justin Morneau paid up for losing a bet to Star Tribune beat reporter Lavelle E. Neal III. He turned into an ink-stained wretch, writing an entry for Neal's Twins Insider
Two-and-a-half weeks later, an unemployed hack developed an interesting theory: Morneau spent so much time constructing his masterpiece that he forgot how to hit. From June 5-25, he hit just .222 with one home run and seven RBIs.
Most of June was unkind. Morneau went a stretch of 68 at-bats without a home run.
Then, according to FSN North's best analyst, Ron Coomer, Morneau worked on eliminating a stride in his swing. Since, the results are great.
Yet, the national media has yet to take notice. For example, ESPN's Keith Law went as far as to suggest Morneau shouldn't be an All-Star. While explaining his choices, he wrote: The best players omitted here are probably Justin Morneau (passed over in favor of Pena, a much better defender and almost Morneau's equal as a hitter).
Wow! Carlos Pena (Tampa), in every offensive category but home runs, isn't near Morneau and defensively, they're about equal. Maybe last year Pena was a much better defender, but not this season.
In 2006, Law criticized Morneau's selection as American League MVP. He highly endorsed New York's Derek Jeter. Maybe he just doesn't like him.
Not only haven't some media members noticed Morneau's brilliance, but in Sports Illustrated's annual survey of baseball executives and
scouts that asks the question, "Which five players would you pick to
start a franchise?" The 28-year-old Morneau got no votes. It's easy to understand someone saying, "Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer
, and Chase Utley are easy picks", but to not get one single vote after those three is amazing even with the company of another first baseman.
Halfway through the season, Morneau is in this conversation: "Could we have our first Triple Crown winner since 1967 (Carl Yastrzemski)?" He's not in it more so than Pujols, but entering Wednesday's game he's second in RBIs (69), tied for second in home runs (21), and fourth in batting average (.320).
Mauer will qualify for the batting title in days, pushing Morneau down a notch. Batting average is the most troublesome category. Unlike Pujols, Morneau has to deal with a two-time batting champ in the prime of his career in Mauer and the best hitter of the decade, Seattle's Ichiro.
Winning the Triple Crown may be as far-fetched an idea as Mauer hitting .400, but Morneau might finish No. 1 in home runs and RBIs, and top-five in batting average, yet would do it so quietly.
He deserves some love. Maybe he'll get some next week at the All-Star Game in St. Louis. Despite Law's opinion, Morneau will be there.
Coming up with good moves by general manager Bill Smith is far from an easy task, but after assistant GM Rob Antony did most of the leg work on a contract extension for Morneau, he approved the six-year, $80 million dollar deal just over a year ago. Each passing day, that agreement looks like more of a steal.
Abbott once asked: "Who's on first?" How about a Triple Crown contender.