The new Sports Illustrated will hit newsstands today, with the cover donning Joe Mauer crouched beside the words: "The case for Joe Mauer and Baseball History; Hometown Hero Lives in Log Cabin, Loves His Mower, Chases .400."
I haven't read the piece yet, but I have a metaphorical image of exceptional S.I. writer Tom Verducci twisting away at a stately maple for the sweetest our syrups, only to jar the most earnest and ordinary of quotes.
The piece on Mauer's batting quest (which I truly do look forward to reading this afternoon), follows the efforts of both regional scribes and national voices to frame the catcher's power-laden May into a status statement for Mauer being "the best player in baseball."
But to look at the guy - one would never believe that's what is in Mauer's mind.
Labels and self-aggrandizement aren't the Mauer way. No vanity. No narcissism. He's the demure Superstar in an era where Manny Ramirez gets more pub for being a putz than Mauer does for hitting 11 home runs in a month. Hell, we'll get the same reply from the St. Paul-native whether we query him about the "best player" label, or his face on the label of a packet of butter.
The nation knows Mauer as much as they need to without any titular quotes preceding his
By my count, Mauer will qualify for the batting race either right before, or directly after next month's All-Star break. We'll open up the paper one morning and "Pop!," there he'll suddenly be in bold, (hopefully) a notch above Ichiro and the rest of the crew, his numbers saying what no title, brand, hallmark, stamp or symbol could ever rightly define.
We neither want nor need the "best player" title attached to Mauer. Like the dairy-products that he pitches, the legend itself is best kept on ice, stored away from the light, and exposure.
Portions of this piece initially appeared on KSTP's "Twins' Writer's Rant," Sunday, June 7th.