The Curious Case of Joe Mauer

July 16, 2010

Courtesy heavethehawk.com

I caught my first Twins game at Target Field last night. Another first: I heard widespread grumbling among Twins faithful over the mediocre season catcher Joe Mauer is putting together.

Last season, Mauer led the league in batting average (.365) while tallying an impressive 28 home runs. This year, he’s hitting a pedestrian .293 with just four homers. He’s yet to a hit a home run at Target Field, his presumed home field until 2018 after signing an eight-year, $184 million contract extension in April. Let’s hope Twins general manager Bill Smith kept the receipt.

Still, despite playing in a smaller market and putting up mediocre first-half numbers, Mauer received more All-Star votes than any other player in baseball. I suppose I’m prone to be hypercritical of our local market, but the rest of the nation seems forgiving of Mauer’s shortcomings and fully invested in the hype machine. How can you blame them when he’s appeared on separate Sports Illustrated covers alongside headlines like “American Idol” and “The Case for Joe Mauer and Baseball History”?

Mauer’s brand continues to soar even as his batting average tumbles. He’s selling milk, ice cream, video games and fitness centers. He’s got endorsement deals with Nike, Rawlings, Pepsi and Gatorade.  I can’t be the only one who senses he’s been negatively affected by all the extracurricular activity. Call it Joe-verkill. Baby Jesus just isn’t the kind of guy who can squeeze in a commercial shoot on an off day.

This was implicit in a feature story by Joe Christensen in Sunday’s Star Tribune titled “Joe Inc.” It seems we have another dopey star athlete thrust into the world of endorsements and marketing, all the while trying to keep up on the field. In the feature, Mauer said, “I don’t do anything that I don’t believe in. I’m not going to do things just to make a quick buck.”

Don’t stop there, Joe. Just don’t do anything … at all. Not the rest of this season, anyway. You focus on baseball and let your agent, Ron Shapiro, line up opportunities for the offseason.

Three-time batting champion. Two-time Gold Glove winner. 2009 American League most valuable player. That’s all fine and good,  but the best thing Mauer can do for his marketability is put a cork on this year’s campaigning and help the Twins earn a World Series title. Short of achieving the elusive .400 season, the only way Mauer can join the Peyton Mannings, Derek Jeters and Kobe Bryants with top-dollar endorsement deals is by winning a title.

For Joe’s sake and ours, the sooner, the better.