The first time I asked Joe Mauer about the possibility of his joining the Twins was in February 2001. Mauer was a 17-year-old senior at Cretin-Derham Hall and had just completed one of the best prep football seasons in state history.
Then-Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, who was holding on to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 MLB draft, told me, “There is a good chance we would take him No. 1. He is the best prospect I’ve seen since I joined the Twins here.”
Mauer was told about the quote, and asked about his options between playing football at Florida State, where he had a full-ride scholarship from legendary coach Bobby Bowden, and playing baseball for the Twins.
“Well, if that’s what they’re saying, first pick or whatever, I probably wouldn’t play football,” Mauer said. “But if things didn’t work out [in baseball] I’d have something to fall back on.”
Mauer never needed to fall back on anything.
Over 17 years in the Twins organization, he put together a career that matched the greatest players who ever wore a Twins uniform, players such as Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett. That career officially came to an end with Friday’s announcement that Mauer will retire.
But there is an argument to be made that the combination of Mauer’s performance for the Twins and his performance as a prep athlete at Cretin-Derham Hall makes him the most successful athlete in state history.
Sure, you had great in-state prep athletes such as Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, Larry Fitzgerald Jr. and Kevin McHale who went on to Hall of Fame careers, but most or all of their professional lives were spent playing outside of Minnesota.
Then you have the all-time pro greats such as Puckett, Carew, Killebrew, Torii Hunter, Kevin Garnett, Randy Moss, Carl Eller, Fran Tarkenton, Ron Yary, Cris Carter, Carl Eller, Alan Page and Mick Tingelhoff, but of course they weren’t born and raised in Minnesota.
Concussions left a mark
Mauer’s final career numbers of a .306 batting average, .388 on-base percentage, 143 home runs, 428 doubles, 923 RBI and 2,123 hits are both a tremendous accomplishment and a look at how injuries robbed him of some of his offensive prime.
Before his concussion symptoms Mauer was a career .323 hitter and got on base at a .405 clip through his first 10 MLB seasons.
For some context on just how good Mauer was his first 10 years, the only qualified hitters in the expansion era (since 1961) to post better career batting averages than .323 are Tony Gwynn (.338), Roberto Clemente (.331), Wade Boggs (.328) and Carew (.328).
Mauer did that while playing the most physically and mentally demanding position in baseball at catcher. It was simply unheard of.
His legacy with the Twins will only grow over time. Mauer ranks first in times on base, second in hits, walks and games played, third in batting average and on-base percentage and fifth in RBI.
And I believe in a few years, Mauer will take his place alongside the game’s greats in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Young Gophers never quit
The Gophers football team’s 41-10 victory over Purdue on Saturday could not have been more impressive. It showed that all of the talk about this young team getting better was true.
After coach P.J. Fleck fired defensive coordinator Robb Smith last weekend and installed Joe Rossi in an interim role, it was clear that the season was in jeopardy.
In this victory, everything went right in a frigid environment at TCF Bank Stadium.
“Really proud of our football team’s response,” Fleck said. “Purdue is an incredible football team. I mean they’re averaging 485 yards of offense, No. 2 offense in the Big Ten, No. 13 in the country.”
Add in the fact that the Gophers defense had been giving up 507.7 yards per game through six Big Ten games, that was the second-worst mark in the conference. But the Gophers, 10½-point underdogs at home, flipped the script againt the Boilermakers.
They held Purdue star quarterback David Blough to 142 passing yards. The Boilermakers gained only 233 total yards, compared to the Gophers’ 415. It was their lowest single-game yardage and point total on the season.
The Gophers played incredible. In beating Ohio State last month, Purdue had put up 539 total yards of offense, including 378 passing yards by Blough. In beating Iowa last week, Blough had 333 passing yards and Purdue 434 total.
Fleck had to be proud of two veteran leaders in senior Blake Cashman and junior Thomas Barber. They led a defense that held Purdue to 0-for-12 on third down.
“I am just really proud of this team’s response and their resolve and their resiliency,” Fleck said. “This team showed a lot of heart, character and integrity tonight.”
And now if the Gophers can protect home field at TCF Bank Stadium against Northwestern and reach a bowl game, they would be one of the best examples of overcoming adversity in the country.
• ESPN Insider graded the Timberwolves trade of Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia along with Justin Patton for Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and a second-round pick as a B for the Wolves and a C-minus for the 76ers. Writer Kevin Pelton wrote, “Adding two starters will improve Minnesota’s depth as the team hopes to salvage this season while keeping an eye on the future. From the Timberwolves’ standpoint, there’s a lot to like about this deal. Unlike reported offers from the Houston Rockets and Miami Heat, this one doesn’t force Minnesota to take on any negative, long-term salary.”
• According to ESPN NFL reporter Bill Barnwell, Vikings receiver Adam Thielenand defensive lineman Danielle Hunter are in the hunt for Player of the Year awards.
• Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson has given his group the “Rushmen 4 Life” nickname, which he coined back during his first stint with the Vikings in 1998-99. That group had four sacks in the red zone last week vs. Detroit.
• One side effect of NBC moving the Vikings-Bears game next Sunday to 7:30 p.m. is how it impacts the Bears’ travel schedule. Chicago has to play at Detroit in the early game on Thanksgiving, about an 85-hour turnaround that is perhaps the shortest turnaround any NFL team can have.
• Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino on his tough schedule: “We’ll be tested early. We play Utah the second game of the season in our building [Monday], Texas A&M, Santa Clara, Washington [those three games are in Vancouver], at Boston College, Oklahoma State, obviously the Big Ten has a couple games early [at Ohio State and vs. Nebraska]. We will know where we stand.”
• Former Gophers football coach Tracy Claeys, now the defensive coordinator at No. 8 Washington State, has been nominated for the Broyles Award, given annually to the best assistant coach in college football.