Reusse: Mauer move could usher in new era of durability

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 12, 2013 - 12:20 PM

Out from behind the plate, the Twins star should be -- and needs to be -- in the lineup more often.

Joe Mauer will be making the move from the most difficult fielding position in baseball to the easiest. The escape from catcher to first base takes away all the excuses for Mauer’s lack of durability.

Prince Fielder is the baseball equivalent of Vince Wilfork when it comes to body type. Fielder also has the longest games-played streak in the major leagues — 505 in the regular season — for two reasons: One, an outstanding commitment to his team; and two, he plays first base.

The Twins aren’t losing a full-time catcher with Monday’s announcement on Mauer, of course. He hasn’t been a regular presence behind the plate since his MVP season of 2009.

Mauer missed the first month of that season because of a back issue, and after that he started as the catcher in 107 of the 139 games (77 percent) remaining on the schedule.

Since then … forget about it.

Mauer was the starting catcher in 47 games (29 percent of the schedule) in his plane crash of a season in 2011. He started a hefty 144 games in 2012, with 72 games (44 percent of the schedule) as the catcher.

Last season, Mauer was on pace to catch more games until a foul ball off the facemask led to a concussion and he missed the last 5½ weeks. He wound up with 73 starts (45 percent) at catcher.

Overall, Mauer was able to play in some form for the Twins in 342 of 486 games over the past three seasons for this reeling baseball operation. In Milwaukee and then for two years in Detroit, Fielder, the pudgy Prince, played in 486 of 486 games.

That’s all of them.

Mauer has been the target of substantial ridicule since April 14, 2011. That was the night manager Ron Gardenhire looked at a piece of scratch paper in the visiting manager’s office in Tropicana Field and read off the description of the ailment that would send Mauer to the disabled list: “bilateral leg weakness.”

Never in what’s now a 53-season history for the Twins has three words done as much damage to a player’s reputation as did that utterance from Gardenhire, the reluctant middle man in relaying the diagnosis.

Then again, Mauer might have outlived the BLW nonsense, if he hadn’t camped out in Fort Myers for a hunk of the 2011 schedule and then allowed the Twins to shut him down with “mild pneumonia” for the last stretch of September. It didn’t help that he was starting the contract that called for $23 million per annum in 2011.

When he came back and was almost an ironman in 2012, we complained he didn’t catch enough. When he caught more in 2013, the durability rips were almost behind him, but then he took the foul ball off the mask and wasn’t seen in the lineup again.

I discovered this a few weeks ago in the 140-character world of Twitter: You can upset some folks when suggesting Mauer is the symbol of a Twins clubhouse where playing every day doesn’t seem to be an obligation, and Fielder is the symbol of a Tigers clubhouse where you play every day when at all possible.

This was looked at as taking a shot at Mauer for not playing with a concussion. It was meant to be a comment on a star player who has missed 144 games in the past three seasons for ailments head to toe, and in a clubhouse where so many of his teammates seem to look at being in the lineup as optional.

Now that he’s moving to first base, where he won’t be taking foul balls off the facemask and collarbone and throwing hand, Mauer can change the message he sends … change the whole, “If we give ‘whoever’ today off, tomorrow’s a day off, so we can give ’em two days off” ethic that pours forth from a 97-loss (on average) collection that has stunk out Target Field for three seasons.

Say it will be so, Joe. Play first base next season and rest one day a month, maximum. That could change the attitude, and maybe the win total, with an outfit that lately has been a country club for losers.

 

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. on AM-1500. preusse@startribune.com

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