By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
It was a difficult choice. After a week of rumination, Redmond marched back into the front office.
"Give me one more shot," he said. "Give me this year. Hell, give me half a year. If it doesn't work out, I'll coach."
Redmond got his shot and never looked back. In '98, a catcher named Randy Knorr broke his thumb, sending Redmond to AAA. Weeks later, he was headed to Miami, where a Marlins jersey awaited.
"It's a hell of a story," he says. "I try to tell young guys that story all the time. All I wanted was one more shot. I could have easily said, 'It's too hard. Forget it. Let's move on. I'll coach.' But deep down, something told me to hang on for one more year." He shrugs. "I've been in the big leagues ever since."
IN 2004, WAYNE KRIVSKY was scouting the National League for talent. He was an assistant to Terry Ryan, the general manager of the Minnesota Twins, and they were sitting on a catching prospect named Joe Mauer, a 21-year-old Adonis with a god-given swing and a falcon's eye at the plate. What the Twins needed was a veteran to counterbalance that heady youth. Someone who had caught Cy Young winners, who had played in the World Series, who could accept the role of backing up a future all-star.
What Krivsky found was a 32-year-old free agent named Mike Redmond. Over his years ferreting out talent for Terry Ryan's small-ball Twins, Krivsky had developed a curious appreciation for the backup catcher who had played behind the legendary Pudge Rodriguez with the Marlins, who had won a ring shouting from the bench during their unlikely run to the championship the previous year, an enigmatic player who was unanimously regarded as a team leader even though he only left the bench for the field once a week, and who, Krivsky had heard, had once gone from the clubhouse to the field stark naked.
"He's not the kind of guy you're going to scout in one game and come away saying, 'Wow,'" admits Krivsky. "He was an underrated player. But he did small things with his bat. When he got his opportunities once or twice a week, he used the whole field. Always had good at-bats."
Redmond was the perfect choice to back up Mauer. To compare the two is to compare a stallion with a wolf. Mauer is tall and equine, lean and patient, quiet and reserved, built like a Greek hero. Redmond is diminutive and loudmouthed, a battered, husky scrap of a player, something that crawled from the dust with a mitt and a mask. In Mauer's eyes, you see the calm assurance of greatness, in Redmond's, the ferocity of hunger.
As Redmond settled into Mauer's shadow, a curious thing happened—while Mauer racked up singles, press minutes, and injuries, Redmond's numbers skyrocketed. In four years with the Minnesota Twins, Redmond has batted .307. His lifetime average has spiked to .292. In 2007, with Mauer injured, Redmond played in about half of the season's games, batting .294 in a career-high 272 times at the plate. He hasn't committed a fielding error in four years. And, on a young team that offered the breakout prowess of slugger Justin Morneau and Cy Young winner Johann Santana, his talent for keeping a team loose, being a clubhouse presence, and leading a squad finally flowered. In 2006, he coined "smell 'em," the slogan that found its way onto T-shirts during the team's run to the playoffs, referencing the Twins' uncanny ability to manufacture badly needed runs.
"I'm tempted to say that he's the definition of an unremarkable player," says Seth Stohs, the Twins correspondent for industry bible Baseball Digest. "His toughness, his talent as a teammate, I'm not sure you can statistically quantify these things. But look at his numbers. He's batted above .300 since he came to the Twins. He hasn't been on the DL since 1998. That's remarkable."
IN A MID-APRIL AFTERNOON, the usually temperate Metrodome air is a damp, oppressive soup. It's only 4:30 p.m., but for Redmond, twilight already approaches. His groin hasn't recovered the way he thought it might, and his shoulder has worsened. He's been platooning catching duties with Jose Morales, the 26-year-old Puerto Rican with a firecracker for a bat.
Most importantly, Mauer—who has been rehabbing a sore back in Florida since the season's start—has named his return date. You can count the days on one hand. Strain, and you can hear the second hand ticking down. Redmond knows the bench awaits him in just three days.
But as his colleagues file past, marching up the long staircase to eat and dress before the evening's game, pride settles upon him. Hellos are exchanged, along with a quick volley of in-jokes. Alone again, he pauses.
"That's the most important part for me," he says, pointing at his teammates. "The game forgets about you fast—real fast. In 10 years, most players will say, 'Who was Mike Redmond?' But it's the impact you have on your teammates. What do they say about you in 20 years? Justin Morneau. Joe Mauer. Cuddy. I'll be calling them up when I'm 58 just like I do today, cracking them up. That's the important part."