We're Talking About You Too, Joe
Just in case Joe Mauer got to thinkin' he could duck the jibes about babying injuries, or that the criticism might have been intended mainly for Justin Morneau, manager Ron Gardenhire and bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek went to Jim Souhan to call him out by name in today's Strib, too.
"If his knee were blowing up, then I would say, yeah, we need to move him. But a groin muscle, it has nothing to do with catching. So if his knee is fine, then he should be our catcher.
"The thing here, you're going to have to start deciding what your body can and can't do. It's a pretty hard game at this level. You're going to be beat up. You're going to have to play through something. And he's going to have to learn that."
Stelly chimes in:
"The kid has been pretty well pampered the majority of his career. At that position, if you're going to play 125, 135, 140 games, if you think you're going to be 100 percent every single day, you're crazy. I think we'll have to see how he responds to these nagging injuries, and if they keep up, then he doesn't help us out as a catcher.
"You'd think that a young, strapping body wouldn't have these types of injuries, but they seem to keep creeping up on him."
Keep a few things in mind now.
One, I've noticed at least three writers in the Strib covering this issue, and one in the Pioneer Press, as well as it being the lead in an AP game recap and the subject of the note on the Twins in the latest ESPN Power Rankings. Gardenhire, two of his coaches, Torii Hunter, and Brad Radke have been quoted directly on the issue or made a veiled allusion to it. It's definitely a coordinated campaign to get this issue played out in the press.
Two, they're talking about a cornerstone of the franchise future, a kid in whom millions of dollars have already been invested and who could generate millions more in profits as well as be a key man on championship teams in years to come. It's not only in Mauer's own interest to take special care of himself, it's in the club's interest to look out for him and keep an eye on the big picture, too.
Three, this is a kid who tried to hurry back after knee surgery last season and played through knee pain for over a month, before succumbing and going back to a rest and rehab routine that carried into even the start of this season. When he pulled his groin muscle in Cleveland in late May, he sat out 5 games (counting one in which he appeared as a pinch-hitter), started 2 of the 3 games in the next series, then asked for a few more games off because the injury was still bothering him. I don't think you could call Joe Mauer a "malingerer" (as TK once infamously labelled Mark Redman). He's tried to play through both injuries. If anything, I hope that the club might have realized last season to watch out for the kid, because he might even be a little too willing to play through a serious injury in stoic silence.
Four, can you imagine squatting and standing for over 3 hours--up & down, up & down--as well as batting 5 times a game with an inflamed groin muscle? Now imagine doing it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.... How ya feeling? Does it seem fair to say that the groin muscle "has nothing to do with catching"?
Five, remember when the Annointed Ace for Life missed half the season in 2002 with a pulled groin muscle? Did anyone ever call out Brad Radke in the papers and imply that he was a big wuss who was letting the team down, and that he needed to learn how to play through pain? Now they're ripping Mauer because he missed about a week.
The way Gardenhire and Co. are handling this issue just boggles the mind. Props to Jim Souhan, by the way, for pointing out in fairness to Mauer that last year he was "if anything... too willing to play" through a serious injury; and he also asks, "How can anyone but the athlete know how much he hurts?" Now I'd like to see those points posed to Gardenhire for a response.
That the future of the franchise is being handled by people who actually would say out loud, "The kid has been pretty well pampered the majority of his career... You'd think that a young, strapping body wouldn't have these types of injuries, but they seem to keep creeping up on him," just about makes me feel like bursting into flames. If I ran across Rick Stelmaszek anytime soon, I don't know if I could restrain myself from popping him--and I have not actually punched anyone since I last hit my brother when I was in high school. I'm a gentle soul, dammit! Live and let live. But there are things that just shouldn't be said.
But leave it to the professionals, folks! They know best. Or maybe some work experience as a futility infielder in the 1980s and being the man responsible for deciding whether to wave runners home through the '90s really isn't the best qualification for now being in charge of 25 men, the development of multi-million dollar investments, and the direction of a franchise's future.