Fans' patience wearing thin over Mauer's long absence

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 12, 2011 - 6:52 AM

The public's view of the injured catcher's part in this flop of a Twins season is growing harsher by the day.

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Twins catcher Joe Mauer

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There are two dominant sports entities in the Twin Cities: the Vikings and the Twins. The other teams, pro and college, have moments, but there are hard facts -- collective TV audiences over the course of a season, Internet hits -- that tell you the Vikings and the Twins are what get a constant response from the masses.

The Twins are approaching the quarter-pole of a season that started with many fans concerned if their favorites would be able to offer a better showing in the playoffs, particularly if the opponent was the Yankees.

There was a similar concern with the Purple faithful last September -- namely, would these Vikings take one more step and offer a return to the Super Bowl for the first time since January 1977?

The 2010 Vikings completed the opening one-fourth of the schedule at 1-3. The 2011 Twins are 12-23 after a fifth consecutive loss, 9-7 to Detroit, on Wednesday at Target Field.

And I think this is being read right:

Minnesota's sporting public is far more disgusted with the Twins winning at a .343 pace than they were with the Vikings winning at .250 at a similar point in the schedule.

There are reasons for this:

The venom of Vikings fans was directed almost completely at now-fired coach Brad Childress. Minnesotans spent so much energy extolling Brett Favre a season earlier that they were unwilling to admit he was playing lousy. And, they were enthused over the return of Randy Moss, even with a 29-20 loss to the Jets in his Game 4 debut.

The Twins do not have a convenient non-player target. Manager Ron Gardenhire has some critics, but six division titles in nine years make him an unreasonable scapegoat.

What's different with the Twins is that the hardcore followers have started to direct their unhappiness at the team's star.

On Labor Day of 2010, as the baseball and football schedules intersected, the two biggest names in Minnesota sports were Favre and Joe Mauer.

We decided to hang with Favre through all the pratfalls: the losses resulting from his reckless play, the Jenn Sterger scandal, the shoulder sprain that finally put him in mothballs.

The public has a much different view of Mauer's part in this flop of a Twins season -- and it's a view growing harsher by the day.

Favre turned 41 last October. There was never a question of his toughness, not with a record 297 consecutive starts on his résumé.

With Mauer, fans had groused in the past over time missed because of injuries and Gardenhire's need to rest the catcher in day games after night games.

Now, he was starting a no-trade contract that would pay him $23 million annually over eight years. He would turn 28 on April 19.

He came up a week short. He played on April 12, came to Target Field the next day and said his legs were sore. He hasn't played since. He was sick for a few days, but a month later, he remains missing with soreness here, weakness there.

Favre made sure the public was able to see photos of the swelling and bruises on the injured ankle he played with the 2009 NFC Championship Game. The Twins and Mauer can't even put a sensible name to whatever injury the catcher is alleged to be suffering.

No wonder the public has gone from being eager to return to Target Field for a second season, to what is now disillusionment with Mauer, and disgust over the beer-league blunders they have been made to see as the surviving Twins stumble to defeat, one game after another.

All we have heard about Mauer is he's spending more time in the pool than Michael Phelps. He's taller, too, so maybe this is Joe's secret plan -- to become an Olympic butterflier.

Last fall, Vikings fans still saw hope for a revival at the one-fourth point. They were wrong, of course. The Vikings finished last in a four-team division.

Today, even if Mauer were to get an uncontrollable urge to play one of these weeks, he won't remedy mediocre starters, inadequate relievers, a void in the middle of the infield and a long-ball starved lineup.

Let's face it: The 2011 Twins have a fighting chance to finish last in a five-team division, which would trump the 2010 Vikings.

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

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