Already a three-time batting champ Minnesota Twin Joe Mauer is hitting .332 in 2012 and was just chosen for his fifth American League All-Star team. Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Joe Mauer May Be Among All-Time Catcher Greats


Joe Mauer is a hitting machine. We should know that by now, but every season he does something fresh to impress. Going into July 4 play the Minnesota Twins star was batting .332 after cracking three hits Tuesday night in an 8-6 win over the Detroit Tigers and he had a league-leading .420 on-base percentage.

By any measure, wherever he plays in the field, or if he serves as a designated hitter, Mauer is a special player. He is just 29 years old and has been in the majors for nine seasons. He has won three batting titles and that’s despite being a catcher for all but brief appearances elsewhere his career.

Catchers take such a bruising, absorb so much wear-and-tear on their bodies, that they are almost never the leading batsman in their league. It is really astounding how rarely a catcher has led a major league in hitting and that only adds to Mauer’s luster.

 

 

First, let us note that Mauer is a three-time AL batting champ. He won the crown with a .347 average in 2006. He won again in 2008 by hitting .328. And he was the league-leader once more in 2009 with a .365 average. When Mauer claimed his first title he became the first catcher in American League history (105 years) to capture one.

Mauer is a five-time All-Star (counting just being selected for 2012 the other day) and owns a lifetime .324 average. This year could be his sixth year hitting over .300. Also, his career on-base percentage is a superb .404. Oh yeah, Mauer is also a Most Valuable Player award winner and lest anyone think the fielding of the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Mauer has suffered, he also has won three Gold Gloves.

At this young age Mauer is the only catcher to win three batting titles. In fact, hardly any other catchers in baseball history have won batting titles. Ernie Lombardi, a Hall of Fame catcher for the Cincinnati Reds won two. Lombardi hit .342 in 1938 and he hit .330 in 1942, both good enough to claim batting crowns.

Lombardi’s dimensions were listed as 6-3 and 230 pounds, but as he aged he kept gaining weight and some speculate he weighed 50 or more pounds beyond that by the end of his career. Lombardi had thighs like redwoods and was about as deeply rooted as one of those trees. The leaves rippling in a breeze probably moved at a faster speed than he did. The odds against Lombardi beating out an infield hit were about the same as him taking flight between Cincinnati and Cleveland by flapping his arms. He was so slow that on hard-hit balls to right-field he was sometimes thrown out at first base. Never mind bunting.

All of which makes his achievement of Lombardi’s winning two batting crowns even more noteworthy. No cheap hits for Ernie.

Besides Mauer and Lombardi, the only other catcher in Major League history to win a batting title was Bubbles Hargrave in 1926 when he hit .353, also for the Cincinnati Reds. Although not well remembered, Hargrave played in the majors for a mix of teams between 1913 and 1930 and compiled a .310 lifetime average.

Sooner or later the Twins and Mauer will agree that his body can no longer take the pummeling serving a lifetime behind the plate. But until that happens Mauer is likely to add to a resume that will put him among the pantheon of greatest catchers of all time.

 

Tags: All-Star Batting Titles Bubbles Hargrave Cincinnati Reds Detroit Tigers Ernie Lombardi Featured Gold Glove Joe Mauer Minnesota Twins MVP Popular

  • bballbigbrother

    I like Mauer as a player and I think he’ll have a great career if the @Twins can keep him on the field. That said, his power numbers don’t excite me much and I think the Twins majorly over-reached in order to lock him up long-term. That deal is going to hurt them in the future and the results of that may already be showing itself on this year’s team.

  • The5_5Hole

     @bballbigbrother  @Twins I agree, the deal was pretty over the top, but to a certain extent I like that the team made the move.  Mauer is the face of that franchise and is the hometown kid.  I think back to Tony Gwynn and the Padres.  His power didn’t excite anyone, but if it took the type of contract the Twins gave Mauer for the Padres to keep Gwynn, I’d have been all for it.  As misguided as that may be. 

  • The5_5Hole

    The interesting thing about Mauer’s season is that if you just read the articles and tweets across the web, you’d think he was having a horrible season.  People hold a grudge for a long time, and I’mnot exactly sure why.  His freaking knees hurt last year, give him a break.  

  • http://www.stangraphs.com BrianLVaughan

    I think Mauer’s greatness gets discounted a lot because people focus so much on injuries and counting stats. Per rate stats, what catcher from this generation is better than Mauer? He obviously won’t stay at the position forever, but .400 OBP catchers don’t grow on trees.

  • The5_5Hole

     @BrianLVaughan I’ve always been a big Mauer apologist, even when he struggled so bad last year, so maybe I’m terribly biased, but I really do think he can be one of the game’s greatest catchers ever.  He won’t play the position forever, but even if he splits time there, he’ll still be one of the best ever.