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Joe Mauer is good at everything

Feb 17, 2010, 8:57 AM EDT

Bob Nightengale has a lengthy article on Joe Mauer in USA Today, um, today, painting a picture of a regular guy who, it seems anyway, wouldn’t quite know what to do with $200 million:

On his way to the Sony Computer Entertainment studio in San Diego to do motion-capture work for the video game, Mauer’s Lincoln Town Car rolls up to an In-N-Out Burger in El Toro, Calif. The window rolls down, and from the passenger seat, he orders a Double-Double with fries. When you’re an unassuming kid from St. Paul, why
bother with expensive seafood or steak on a three-day trip to
California when you can order from one of your favorite fast-food

Then again, Mauer passed on a luxury vehicle
when he got a $5.15 million bonus in 2001 for signing out of high
school, and he now drives a truck. His only indulgence is a cabin north
of the Twin Cities, a ranch with batting cages, bowling alley, movie
theater, recording booth (yes, he sings), hockey/fishing pond and
plenty of hunting land . . .

. . . “He just hangs out, plays videos and beats us in anything. He’s a great
golfer. He bowls with two hands. Good ping-pong player. He’s a great
skater. He can dance like Michael Jackson. We haven’t found anything he’s not good at. It’s kind of annoying.”

Big ups to Mauer on the Double-Double with fries — and how nice it is to hear that none of his family and friends see him leaving Minnesota — but anytime I hear stories like this about ballplayers — about how unassuming they are and all of that — I’m taken back to that thing Bill James once wrote about Dwight Gooden. About how when ballplayers come up and have a lot of early success, how they’re always talked about as being such fine young men.  James said that sportswriters — “either despite their cynicism of because of it” — are desperately want to believe that athletes are heroes and saints until the very moment that they prove not to be, and then they feel betrayed.

This stuff about Mauer is less about him being a hero than merely a nice, sensible young man, but the dynamic is the same. Why else do you travel to Minnesota to talk to his friends unless you’re doing it to push the “Mauer would never leave Minnesota for more money” story along?  What will the story look like if the Twins decide to lowball him and he bolts for Boston next year?  Will we still hear about his ranch, his video games and his Double-Doubles, or will we hear more about Joe Mauer, Inc., moving to the East Coast?

For what it’s worth I think he will stay in Minnesota, but if he does it will almost certainly be because it makes good business sense for him, not because of some inherent goodness in him that renders the same considerations every other ballplayer makes somehow irrelevant. 

  1. JohnnyB - Feb 17, 2010 at 9:14 AM

    He might not have been as overall talented, but look at the career of Kent Hrbek for the Twins. Same sort of local nice guy does good, and Kent still lives in the area, films his outdoors shows, bowls in the local leagues, etc. The money hasn’t changed him. If you think about it, Mauer could already have been pushing all the ‘I want max money’ buttons, and he hasn’t. If anything, I’ll bet he actually feels uncomfortable about being the guy with leverage and really doesn’t care what the dollars end up at, he knows it’s way more than he’ll ever need,he just wants a chance to win.

  2. RobRob - Feb 17, 2010 at 9:46 AM

    In unrelated news, I heard this week that Bode Miller “cares more” this Olympics.

  3. Bill@TDS - Feb 17, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    His only indulgence is a cabin north of the Twin Cities, a ranch with batting cages, bowling alley, movie theater, recording booth (yes, he sings), hockey/fishing pond and plenty of hunting land . . .
    That seems like a pretty sizeable indulgence, doesn’t it? Can’t you see Nightengale totally flipping the story on its head based on the same facts, if he wanted to paint Mauer as a selfish money-grubber who just wants to take everything he can get his hands on while he can, so he can go live in his own self-sufficient kingdom in the north woods?

  4. Grant - Feb 17, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    I don’t think it’s unusual or indicative of anything that Mauer eats at In ‘N Out. First of all, pretty much everyone loves In ‘N Out, regardless of income. Secondly, it has been well demonstrated that ballplayers, particularly young ones, love fast food. Don’t we always hear of epic McDonalds runs from road clubhouses and stuff? Let’s not make the guy into a saint because he loves burgers like any other young American male.

  5. YankeesfanLen - Feb 17, 2010 at 9:59 AM

    Private jets from Teterboro leave for Minnesota all the time.

  6. YX - Feb 17, 2010 at 11:28 AM

    Mauer cannot possibly be a “nice, sensible young man”.
    He could be a “nice, sensible and filthy rich young man”, sort of like the difference between coffee and Irish coffee.

  7. Andrew P - Feb 17, 2010 at 11:30 AM

    I buy into Nightengale’s account of Mauer. Living in the twin cities, you do hear 2nd, 3rd, and 4th hand accounts substantiating this viewpoint whenever he comes up in conversation. I’ve never heard anything that refutes it in the slightest, whether it was from 10 years ago when he was just starting to make waves, or today as a superstar.
    It’s not that Mauer has different considerations than any other athlete in his situation, it’s the weight he places on each of the factors. I have little doubt that Mauer would be able to get more money if he left Minnesota. On the basis purely of his contract, the Twins will sign him to a competitive contract, but it won’t be the same as if he were to hit free agency. He’d be able to make much more money in endorsements, though, if he were to go to a higher-profile market. You can argue that signing this offseason prevents the possibility of losing out on money due to injury, but the same is true for any other athlete (albeit to a lesser degree than a tall catcher) that waits to go to free agency. There are also insurance policies that can be bought to mitigate this consideration.
    Though I don’t proclaim him a saint off-the-field (I’ll reify whatever positives you want to say about his on-field performance), I truly believe his priorities are different than the average athlete. Even if the base set of factors is the same for Mauer, I believe he places more emphasis on non-monetary factors than most. As a Twin, he gets to live near his family and friends (those same high school buddies he still hangs out with), play for the team he grew up rooting for, live the same lifestyle he’s grown up with and loves, play with many of the same teammates (especially Morneau) and manager he is already comfortable around, and further enjoy his status as hometown hero.
    I have no doubt that Mauer will end up making the choice he believes is best for him. I simply think that you’re making an error in either semantics or judgment when equating his decision to a solely “business” one.
    If you still disagree, I’d challenge you to come up with your expectations of what he could get as a Yankee versus what he could get as a Twin when looking at it as a solely “business” decision. You can elaborate on whatever factors you feel are relevant (injury risk and insurance, endorsements, etc).

  8. Craig Calcaterra - Feb 17, 2010 at 11:36 AM

    I never said that he’s make his decision “solely on business.” I said he’d make a deal that makes good business sense. Other considerations — family, personal preferences, etc. — will obviously enter into it too.
    My point here wasn’t to counter Nightengale’s take of Mauer as a good guy. I have never seen anything to suggest he’s anything but. My point is that, coming when it does, this article is clearly intended to paint a picture of a man whose disposition all but ensures that he’ll stay in Minnesota because that’s what people of that disposition should be expected to do.
    I think he will, but if for some reason it doesn’t happen, and he enters the free agent market instead, how many stories will we see about how nice a guy Joe Mauer is, and how good he is to his friends back in Minnesota?
    It’s not the guy I have a problem with. It’s the predictable narrative the media insists on grafting on athletes like Mauer, building them up and tearing them down as if this stuff was scripted.

  9. Andrew P - Feb 17, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    I don’t see the analogy.
    Irish coffee is still coffee. Mauer can still be nice and sensible, however rich he might be.
    Adding liquor to your coffee doesn’t change that the coffee is brewed from coffee beans, or that it has cream and sugar in it. A huge contract does indeed change how you might wish to describe him, but it doesn’t imply a difference in how nice or sensible he is. Those adjectives could still be applied regardless of how rich he is or isn’t.

  10. Andrew P - Feb 17, 2010 at 11:51 AM

    That’s completely fair. I misunderstood what you meant by a “business” decision, then, and we sound like we have similar views.
    I haven’t read the Nightengale article, but I don’t dispute your assessment of it, or the common media narrative. I only took issue with what I perceived to be your meaning of “business sense.”
    If he does sign a contract this offseason, I’d be just as surprised (read: not at all) as you when an article comes out about how the contract has motivated him to be in the best shape of his life.

  11. YX - Feb 17, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    The difference is that you can drink coffee at work, but can’t drink Irish coffee at work, unless you are the boss.
    You can ask a nice and sensible young kid to hang out, but you can’t ask a nice sensible and filthy rich young kid to hang out, unless you are also filthy rich.

  12. Aquaman - Feb 17, 2010 at 12:41 PM

    Maurer’s the best in the game!

  13. Andrew P - Feb 17, 2010 at 12:48 PM

    And why not? A common thread in these articles about Mauer is that he still hangs out with his high school buddies.
    I don’t see where having more money implies that you somehow can’t maintain some of your same character traits.
    There are no rules against hanging out with people who are less wealthy than you. There are rules against alcohol in the workplace.
    If you won the lottery, would you suddenly discard your less wealthy friends. If so, I feel bad for the quality of your relationships.

  14. YX - Feb 17, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    It’s cool and all that he still hangs out.
    But people don’t drink Irish coffee for the AM boost, just like people don’t write about Mauer because he is such a nice kid.
    People want the Joe Mauer, 100 million all star catcher to stick around. If he is just a “nice, sensible young man”, nobody would give a hoot if he wants to pack up and head east.

  15. Grant - Feb 17, 2010 at 11:41 PM

    Coffee doesn’t have cream and sugar in it. An abomination against the Lord has cream and sugar in it.

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