There were tears, and there were hugs. There were tributes and thank yous. There were reminiscences and what-ifs and wisecracks. But as Joe Mauer, surrounded by family, friends and an impressive cross-section of the Twins’ recent history, formally announced Monday that his playing career has ended, there were absolutely zero farewells.
“The beauty of being from Minnesota,” Mauer said, “is I don’t have to say goodbye.”
That’s because Mauer, a son of St. Paul who until this month had been an employee of the Minnesota Twins for his entire adult life, intends to remain in Minnesota, and perhaps even at Target Field. Though presumably not quite as frequently as his grandparents, Michael and Phyllis Tierney, who he said missed seeing him play at home perhaps a dozen times over his 15-year major-league career.
“I’m going to raise my kids here. My family is here, born and raised. I was a Twins fan before I was a Twin,” Mauer said, daubing his eyes with tissue occasionally as he contemplated the people who helped him achieve more than all but a glorified handful of Twins before him. “I don’t plan on going anywhere unless you guys don’t want me. I’m here.”
Whether that means coaching catchers or evaluating prospects or simply joining Tony Oliva as public goodwill ambassadors, well, that hasn’t been decided.
“I definitely want to be connected,” he said, but Mauer’s third child — he and wife Maddie don’t know whether it’s a third daughter or a first son — is due in the next week or two, “so we’ll be all-hands-on-deck for that,” he said. And then he’ll take some time to adjust to setting his own schedule, and not following one mandated by Major League Baseball.
That will take some getting used to, Mauer admitted, and though he left his touchingly sentimental final game knowing he probably wouldn’t be back, he wasn’t certain about that until getting away from the ballpark for awhile.
“I still feel like I can compete at this level, so [retirement] is a tough thing to swallow,” Mauer said candidly. “But I know it’s the right decision for me, and I made it. I’m excited and I’m happy for that.”
Still, he admitted, he would have kept wearing the uniform if it didn’t mean wondering about whether he might suffer another concussion, about whether he was risking more bouts of nausea and light-sensitivity and worse side effects of a brain injury. When he suffered another one in May, one caused without any serious head impact but that affected him for a month anyway, “it made me think. When it happened, it made me a little more aware,” Mauer said. He even feared his career was over, midseason.
“It brought me back to 2013 and a lot of the struggles I faced back then,” he said. “So I feel this is the best plan not only for me, but my family.”
Mauer downplayed how difficult it might be to watch, not lead, the Twins next year, but it’ll hit him soon enough, said someone who can relate to his condition and his decision. Justin Morneau, who also won a Most Valuable Player Award as a Twin but whose career was abruptly damaged by a concussion, said his former teammate will now go through the withdrawals that all former players do.
“When you were a good hitter at one time, you always believe you can hit. You can watch a game 10 years from now and still believe you could be out there,” Morneau said. “How he hit in big moments [this season] showed that he could still play. But the mind and the body are two different things. So if you don’t feel like you can physically make it through that grind, you’re really doing a disservice to yourself and your teammates if you don’t feel you can do that. Unfortunately, that’s where he’s at, but we got to see greatness for a long time.”
A crowd of VIPs testified to that. Four Twins managers — Tom Kelly, Ron Gardenhire, Paul Molitor and newly hired Rocco Baldelli — were in the room, a testament to Mauer’s respect among his bosses. Ex-general managers Terry Ryan and Bill Smith were there, and Mauer choked up briefly when he thanked Ryan “for taking a chance on a kid from St. Paul” in the 2001 draft.
One of the best decisions he ever made, Ryan said. “When you draft a guy, especially in the first round, you’re looking for talent and character. And he had plenty of both,” Ryan said. “Joe carried himself about as well as any player I was ever around. He had the respect of everyone in the game — the opposition, opposing managers, umpires, teammates and the total respect of our fan base.”
Wild winger Zach Parise, another hometown professional and a close friend, was present, too. Oliva and Morneau were in the crowd, along with Corey Koskie, Glen Perkins, Jack Morris and Tim Laudner.
And there were a roomful of Mauers, too, with his parents, Jake and Teresa, sitting in the front row. “You know, the thing I’m most proud of is that he kept his nose clean all these years. I don’t think you can find somebody who says a bad word about that kid,” Mauer’s father said. “We’re very proud of that.”
Mauer is a free agent, and could have looked for a job with a playoff team, in hopes of experiencing the championship that eluded him here before he quit the game. But Morneau, who did reach the playoffs with Pittsburgh after being dealt away by the Twins, said it’s a quest that’s probably not worth the effort.
“You can’t just pick a situation and assume it’s going to work out and you’ll win a World Series,” Morneau said. “So for him to disrupt his family, and for the risk of injury, deal with concussion stuff, to chase something that isn’t guaranteed, it’s hard to win that argument when you have a 1-in-30 chance to do it.”
He’s glad to retire as a Twin, Mauer said, the 22nd MVP ever to spend his entire 15-year-career with one team. The other 21 are all in the Hall of Fame, and Mauer will see if he keeps the record perfect, beginning in five years when his name first appears on the ballot.
Twins owner Jim Pohlad is glad he stayed, too. On the day in 2010 that Mauer signed his eight-year, $184 million contract, Pohlad shook hands with the six-time All-Star.
“He told me that he would always give us his best. And I have never forgotten that. And I have always believed it,” Pohlad said. “There have been some down times, but mostly great times. But I never doubted him, and I always believed he delivered.”