Should Mauer empower the 'Break' in "All-Star Break"?
Nearly four years ago to the day, a 23-year-old Joe Mauer strode to the mound of victorious battery-mate Mariano Rivera at the close of the 2006 All-Star game and told the luminary Yankee closer, "It was a pleasure."
Swinging forward to modern day: three batting titles, two Gold Gloves, an AL MVP, and $217 million in contract extensions later, a 27-year-old Mauer is set to make his fourth career and third-consecutive All-Star appearance when he starts at catcher for the AL in Anaheim next week. Rivera is supposed to be there as well, assisting his own skip Joe Girardi gain home field advantage for the World Series -- but we won't see the Sandman. He's not appearing in what marks his 11th All-Star selection. While he's not on the D.L., Rivera is using the week to rest his 40-year-old bones.
Should Joe be doing the same?
With a tally of 5.33 million combined votes & clicks, Mauer was the AL's top vote-getter for this year's Mid-Summer Classic. To further evidence the catcher's nationwide popularity: that vote total serves as the third-most in All-Star voting history (Ken Griffey, Jr. and his 6.08 mil in 1994 are still tops all-time).
To receive that type of support and adulation is indeed an honor, no matter how much support and adulation, no matter how many awards, trophies and honors a player has received in his career.
But Mauer is hurting. He clearly said as much when he told MLB.com's Kelly Thesier at the onset of July that:
"I really haven't felt good . . . Everybody wants to compare to what happened last year and stuff like that. Obviously, I think I'm my worst critic and harder on myself than anybody can be out there.
"I've had moments where I've felt good here and haven't had anything to show for it. But I'm really not going to change what I do. I've been doing pretty well so far [in my career], and I'm just trying to get back to the feeling that I've had and trying to sustain that for a longer time."
Here in the Bread Basket -- we want to get that feeling back as well. After muddling through a rugged June schedule, the Twins enter the Break as a "Band of Brothers" that finally appear healthy, but still meandering through what their talent level deems should be a winnable war.
Mauer's own ailments back up his frustrations. Through 75 games, he's sporting the lowest batting average (.297), lowest On Base percentage (.371) second-fewest home runs (4), second-fewest RBI (35) and the second-lowest Slugging percentages (.431) of his personal 75-game start line dating to his first full season of 2005.
Moreover, as he's aged, Mauer's post-All-Star performances have dwindled with time. In his 10 games after the '06 All-Star game, he hit a stellar .412. In his 10-games following his appearances in '08 and '09? Joe rapped .300 and then .256 in said stretch.
Having the All-Star game hold Series implications is somewhat akin to experiencing a family or personal tragedy of a form once felt by those outside your circle -- the ailment really doesn't mean as much until it hits home.
While the implication that Mauer skip the All-Star game threatens his leviathan fan base and strips the Twins of his teaming with Justin Morneau to tandem the club's first pair of All-Star starters since 1968 (Killer and Carew) -- the biggest gesture of Minnesota Nice Joe could provide would be a trip up north instead of a trip out west. Will New York (or the nation for that matter) begrudge or even remember two months from now that Rivera is passing on the contest for legitimate reasons? No. And the same would go for Mauer, who has been playing through pain this year, and who would best represent the Bread Basket by chilling at his log-home and playing the video game that dons his mug while imbibing from the milk jug that he so wholesomely pitches.
Joe's career body of work has earned his actual body a break, and the Twins would reap the benefits of his rest time if he were to skip the All-Star game. There is no shame in that.
Wouldn't we rather have Mauer return from a relaxing spell to his cabin and remark "it was a pleasure," than see him travel halfway across the country, crouch for four innings and maybe get two at-bats?
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