Reusse: Cut the Mauer hysteria; less legwork is a perfect remedy

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 15, 2011 - 11:10 PM

A little outfield time, not surgery or killer antibiotics, can ease long-team worries about Joe Mauer's health.

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Joe Mauer

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Twins General Manager Bill Smith is in St. Petersburg, Fla., for his team's four-game series with Tampa Bay. He was being interviewed by phone early Friday afternoon and trying to calm the Joe Mauer hysteria that was taking place back home.

Smith felt as if the media and the public could be attaching way too much seriousness to Mauer's condition. The GM said that if it was a position other than catcher, the Twins probably would have waited a few days before placing Mauer on the disabled list.

"You can't go three or four days with one catcher, so that's why we had to make a move," Smith said.

Civilians listening to the interview communicated electronically their outrage, insisting that Smith and the Twins were being naïve and/or duplicitous by not admitting that Mauer's weak legs were a result of the grind of catching, and it was past time to find another position for the four-time All-Star.

The Twins had provided fuel for this over-the-top reaction by authorizing manager Ron Gardenhire to tell reporters on Thursday night that Mauer was afflicted with "bilateral leg weakness."

People going to the Internet to diagnose ailments have become such a pain for doctors that they have a word for it: cyberchondria.

In a spinoff of this, reporters, Twins fans and Twins critics rushed to the Internet to look up "bilateral leg weakness'' and soon were suggesting Mauer was facing everything from a spine problem to Lou Gehrig's disease.

Mauer had spent Thursday's game in the clubhouse, feeling as if he was fighting the flu. Eventually, he was taken to a hospital to receive fluids and to have a couple of tests.

The results came back Friday afternoon: Mauer has a viral infection, which has been known to cause weak legs even among strapping 28-year-old athletes.

Respected national baseball analysts were assuring their audiences that this was it for Mauer as a catcher. Tom Verducci of SI.com was quick to post a piece that Mauer was breaking down physically and the Twins erred by giving him an eight-year, $184 million contract extension that carries through 2018.

Either that, or Mauer was sick, and in need of a Z-pack of antibiotics to get back on his feet.

Listen. Media, fans ... we didn't have any idea of Mauer's outlook when leaping into the hysterical fray late Thursday and through the day on Friday.

There's a possibility that what Smith was saying at noontime Friday -- that he anticipated Mauer being ready to resume catching when his DL stint ends -- will be correct.

It also is possible that Mauer's legs will remain bilaterally weak and the Twins will have to consider their options.

We do know this: The Twins will be better off between now and the end of the 2018 season with Mauer as part of the ballclub than if he had departed by trade or free agency last year.

The idea that has intrigued me for a couple of years would be to apply the Yogi Berra plan to Mauer: Later in his career, the Yankees started playing Yogi regularly in left field, to make room for Elston Howard behind the plate.

The Twins aren't going to have a second catcher the likes of Ellie (an American League MVP) -- not even if they had kept Wilson Ramos, folks.

The odds do seem long that the Twins will sign either Delmon Young or Francisco Liriano to high-buck, multiyear contracts. That means next winter they would be looking at their free-agent seasons.

Presuming Young and Liriano get it going to some degree, there will be talent to be had in exchange -- including a catcher with enough of a bat to be a semiregular in the big leagues.

The departure of Young would help create space in the outfield for Joe Benson and/or Ben Revere. It also would give the Twins a chance to use Mauer in left field a few times a month.

You want to get 145 starts and the most out of Mauer? Here's a formula: 100 behind the plate, 25 in left, 20 as a DH.

That's based on bilateral leg weakness turning out to actually have been a fellow being sicker than a dog, of course.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. preusse@startribune.com

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