Has Joe Mauer had enough?

Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer greets Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez as he runs out a force out in the first inning of a baseball game in Detroit on Sept. 17. Paul Sancya | AP

The smartphones all went into the air at the same moment the other night behind the dugout at Target Field, thrust there by the few fans still attending baseball games, believing that they’re living the end of an era in Minnesota sports.

Joe Mauer was at bat.

Mauer’s big contract is up when the season concludes on Sunday and there’s no chance the Twins are going to offer him anything close to the paycheck he’s cashing now.

A few weeks ago, I wrote in this space that I thought Mauer would be back — at reduced pay — because, why not?

I don’t believe that anymore. I think he’s had enough.

I’m not an expert in body language, by any stretch, but what I’m seeing is a guy who’s taking in an experience one last time.

Maybe he made it a regular practice to stop at the dugout steps at the end of each inning in the field and greeted his teammates before and I just never noticed.

Maybe he’s always looked around his home for the last nine years like an owner who’s selling the house his kids grew up in.

Maybe he’s always been the kind of guy to tap the now-retired Victor Martinez of the Detroit Tigers on his heart and lean in for a few whispered words.

But what he’s always been is the type of person who seemed shy about people making a big deal about him, so it’s hard to believe he’ll announce in the off-season that he’ll play one more in a farewell-tour season.

On Tuesday night, he passed Harmon Killebrew in becoming the all-time leader in reaching first base for the Twins. Earlier in the season, he passed Rod Carew and moved into second place (behind Kirby Puckett) on the all-time hits list for the team.

“I don’t think it’s about anything other than, ‘Do I want to do this again?’” former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told the Pioneer Press’ John Shipley. “Body-wise, or for the family — his kids are getting older. He’s going to have to sit back and think about it.”

“My gut right now is that he’s probably going to play,” manager Paul Molitor told Shipley.

Despite an MVP season in 2009, Mauer’s performance always seemed consistent if not Hall of Fame caliber. Then you look up in the last days of the season and he’s passed Killebrew and Carew on two lists, passed Kirby Puckett on another (doubles), and is within striking distance of Puckett on one more. All three — Killebrew, Carew, Puckett — are in the Hall of Fame.

This week, Sports Illustrated looked at why a subset of Twins fans don’t — or didn’t — care for him that much.

He might be most notable for fulfilling every positive stereotype of Minnesotans.

When he was maybe the most sought-after athlete in the entire country as a five-star quarterback prospect committed to play at Florida State, Mauer maintained a slow-spoken and humble demeanor hardly befitting of a 6’4” superstar.

During his career with the Twins, he’s remained his assiduous self and used his social media presence mostly to be a doting dad. He used the same at-bat music—T.I.’s “What You Know”—for 13 consecutive seasons.

“Had [Mauer] left for the Red Sox or Yankees in 2010, those same fans who are calling for his head now would have burned down Target Field,” says Aaron Gleeman, Editor-in-Chief of Baseball Prospectus and host of the Twins podcast Gleeman and the Geek. “There are all sorts of these inferiority complexes at play and there are some fans where no amount of context matters, they just like to get mad.”

None of those fans are the type to attend baseball games of a losing team at the end of September, or thrust a cellphone in the air for a permanent record that they once watched a player they’ll come to appreciate more in the years ahead than perhaps they do now.

Related: For someone who says he hasn’t made up his mind about retiring, Joe Mauer certainly seems like he’s savoring his last days as a Twin (MinnPost)

  • MrE85

    Unless he’s pursuing some obscure milestone, like “Bull Durham’s” Crash Davis, you may be right. So be it. He’s had a good run.

  • Dave Draeger

    I hope he goes 3-for-4 every game this weekend and rethinks it. Regardless, I’m bringing a proper camera on Sunday afternoon.

  • Gary F

    I’m going tonight.

    My son is 22, he hasn’t seen the Twins win the big one. I grew up watching the last years of Killebrew and Carew as a kid and have enjoyed and still remember all the details of two WS wins. We followed Joe Mauer as a high schooler, going to a few CDH football games and a CDH baseball game at Midway stadium. He’s the best player my son has been able to see as a Twin in his lifetime. There is no criticizing Joe for taking a lot of pitches only to ground out to the short shop without catching scorn from my wife.

    If he still plays as a Twin, that’s great, at another team, that’s fine. But I think the kids that run the team really don’t want him back. I’m not sure he could see himself as anything but a Twin.

    At some point you have to hang it up. He’s got a bad knee, a concussion history, a lot of money, two great daughters, and a great wife with one more on the way. Life has been pretty good.

  • Francis Rose

    This post is making me all frustrated and foggy. I have so many things I want to say. I am angry about a lot and I don’t want to sound trollish. I really hope the Twins stop having Morneau on the tv broadcasts. Wow! That guy should be nowhere near a microphone ever. Could not even sleep though the games because his voice just cut through my brain tissue.

    Mauer is/was good player. Maybe people get upset because he never seemed like a leader. He’s not like Torii Hunter, or Jack Morris, or Danny Gladden if that makes sense. The Twins need some guys like that.

    The Twins traded Escobar. I was basically done with them at that point in the season. Still don’t get that. Their lip service annoyed me.

    I had such hope early in the season. Not sure who I will focus on during the playoffs. I think I will be focusing on Oakland.

    • BJ

      Danny Gladden?

      Was maybe the leader of getting into fights with teammates.

  • lindblomeagles

    I’ve never been a Joe Mauer fan, but I respect what he’s accomplished as a member of the Twins. The Twins haven’t had a ton of Hall of Fame guys, like other franchises, such as the Yankees, have had. But, when you pass Kirby Puckett and Rod Carew, that’s BIG! And Mauer did those things rather quietly. He literally just went out onto the field and played baseball every day. He never seemed to seek the spotlight and make himself a household name.

  • Nato Coles

    I hope he comes back on a relatively cheap two year deal with an opt-out. There’s actually some logic to having him at first base – we have zero idea what’s going to happen with Sano, and who else is going to play first at a 1-2 win above replacement level on the roster? Obviously not at $20m/year, but I do hope the front office and Mauer have productive talks and can work something out so that he’s a Twin for at least one more year.

  • AmiSchwab

    i got to see puckett at the hump and got to see joe at target field and thanks to the web, i live in germany, a lot of recaps. i always liked joe for being true to his home state . like hbrek, would be nice if he he would play another season but it was great to be able watch play. and i would love to see him play live one more time.