The discussion about whether Joe Mauer should remain a catcher or switch permanently to first base often became emotionally charged.
Part of it is Mauer’s St. Paul background. Part of it is the nature of the position — catcher is such a specialty that a change is a pretty big deal. And part of it, of course, is Mauer’s $23 million annual salary.
If we can take emotion out of the equation, however, we find that it is a fairly common practice for a player to switch positions for a number of reasons — age, health or helping the team being a few.
In fact, three of the greatest hitters in Twins history either played multiple positions throughout their careers or made a pronounced switch during their playing days. Let’s take a look:
Harmon Killebrew: In his career, which was almost entirely with the Twins organization, Killebrew’s positional breakdown went like this: 930 career starts at first base, 718 starts at third base, 468 at left field and five at second base.
In 1969, when he won the AL MVP award, Killebrew had 96 starts at third base and 66 at first base. The biggest thing with Killebrew was getting his bat in the lineup. Now, Mauer was more valuable as a defensive catcher than Killebrew was at any position, but the point remains to keep Mauer’s bat in the lineup.
Rod Carew: He broke in as a second baseman in 1967 and stayed there until late in the 1975 season, when he made the switch to first base to spare wear and tear on his body. Carew was an amazing hitter at both spots, but he hit .388 as a first baseman in 1977.
Kirby Puckett: His position switch wasn’t as pronounced, going from center field to right field, but it was a big enough deal at the time when it was made a permanent thing. Former Twins GM Andy MacPhail, on Puckett, when announcing he was moving from center to right in July of 1993: “We felt he’s in the first half-year of a five-year contract. He’s such a key player for us that we want to do what we have to to keep him healthy and productive.”
Sounds familiar, and it should be noted that Puckett posted a higher OPS in 1994 and 1995 than he did in any season between 1989 and 1993.