Justin Morneau scribbled notes all over a piece of paper before he spoke Tuesday. He wanted to make sure he didn’t forget something during his speech. After all, you want to nail your retirement news conference.
As he talked, the experience and wisdom he accumulated over a 14-year career rendered most of those notes useless. He was candid, reflective, modest and humorous as he officially ended his playing career before joining the club as a special assistant to Baseball Operations.
“I was fortunate to live my dream every day,” said Morneau, 36. “It wasn’t taken for granted. To achieve that goal and that dream is really something special.
“All I did was play baseball. I really never wanted to do anything else.”
Twins President Dave St. Peter described Morneau as, “one of the most significant players in the history of our franchise.”
Morneau is third all-time on the club’s home run list, sixth in RBI and doubles, eighth in hits and walks and ninth in runs scored and games played.
He spent 11 seasons with the Twins before playing a year in Pittsburgh and two with Colorado then finishing with the White Sox in 2016.
Back with the Twins, Morneau will assist with spring training instruction in both the major league and minor league camps, tour the minor leagues during the regular season, contribute to draft preparation, be a resource for players in the clubhouse — he has a couple swing tips for Max Kepler — and cover about 10 games as an analyst for Fox Sports North.
His role is similar to what former Twins players Torii Hunter, LaTroy Hawkins and Michael Cuddyer do for the club.
“We welcome you back home,” St. Peter said to Morneau.
Included in the audience was Morneau’s wife, Krista, and daughter, Evelyn. Former teammates Joe Mauer and Corey Koskie were on hand, as well as one of his hockey-playing buddies in former Wild player-turned-radio personality Mark Parrish.
Drafted as a catcher but immediately switched to first base, Morneau, born in New Westminster, B.C., often twirled his bat over his head during his follow-through. His swing was unique, and damaged many baseballs.
He was the 2006 AL MVP and was named to four All-Star teams. He also won the 2014 NL batting title with Colorado, batting .319. He also was a solid defensive first baseman.
But his career will be known for at least two concussions he suffered during his Twins tenure. The second was career-threatening, as his head collided with the knee of Blue Jays infielder John McDonald as he attempted to break up a double play on July 7, 2010. It ended a season in which he was batting .345 with 18 home runs and 56 RBI in 81 games. He only played in 69 games the following season as the effects lingered
“There were times when I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play again,” Morneau said. “I didn’t know if I was going to be normal again. If I was going to be able to remember simple things.”
He played 134 games in 2012, batting .267 with 19 homers and 77 RBI. And while he did win a batting title with Colorado in 2014, he was never the power hitter he was earlier in his career. Keep in mind that takeout slides are now illegal.
“It’s almost a tale of two careers,” Morneau said. “It was this ... but this. What could have been. Where could it have gone if there wasn’t the injuries. I try not to go down that road because it could be very difficult and very painful to think about.”
He referred to his notes just once: “Don’t break up a double play with your head. I wrote that down.”