StaTuesday: Mauer’s remarkable career as Twins’ catcher

Joe Mauer choked up a bit as he trotted out of the dugout Sunday in his catcher’s gear, the first time he’d worn it since 2013.

Perhaps a few fans did too.

It was, after all, probably his last appearance in a Minnesota Twins uniform and certainly his last as a catcher.

The idea had been floated wistfully a handful of times on social media, usually with the caveat that such a thing was unlikely given Mauer’s injury history.

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Yet there he was, the Mauer of 2006 and 2008 and 2009, with a little more gray around the edges, out to catch one last pitch in the ninth inning.

If Mauer is really done — it’s worth noting that he has left the door open for a return, both verbally and with steady if unspectacular play at first base — the Twins couldn’t have orchestrated a better sendoff.

Because while Mauer has been a serviceable first baseman, he was an all-world catcher.

Mauer’s peak included some of the best seasons a major-league catcher has ever had, numbers not seen regularly in the majors since catchers had names like Bubbles and Spud.

The only American League catcher ever to win a batting title and the first catcher in either league to win three, Mauer was a nearly-unanimous choice for AL MVP in 2009, earning 27 of a possible 28 first-place votes.

He hit .365 that season, which ranks first or second all-time amongst catchers, depending on your perspective.

Player BA Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO OBP SLG OPS
Babe Phelps .367 1936 115 319 36 117 23 2 5 57 27 18 .421 .498 .920
Joe Mauer .365 2009 138 523 94 191 30 1 28 96 76 63 .444 .587 1.031
Mike Piazza .362 1997 152 556 104 201 32 1 40 124 69 77 .431 .638 1.070
Bill Dickey .362 1936 112 423 99 153 26 8 22 107 46 16 .428 .617 1.045
Chief Meyers .358 1912 126 371 60 133 16 5 6 60 47 20 .441 .477 .918
Mickey Cochrane .357 1930 130 487 110 174 42 5 10 85 55 18 .424 .526 .949
Gabby Hartnett .354 1937 110 356 47 126 21 6 12 82 43 19 .424 .548 .971
Bubbles Hargrave .353 1926 105 326 42 115 22 8 6 62 25 17 .406 .525 .930
Spud Davis .349 1933 141 495 51 173 28 3 9 65 32 24 .395 .473 .867
Mickey Cochrane .349 1931 122 459 87 160 31 6 17 89 56 21 .423 .553 .976
Joe Mauer .347 2006 140 521 86 181 36 4 13 84 79 54 .429 .507 .936
Mike Piazza .346 1995 112 434 82 150 17 0 32 93 39 80 .400 .606 1.006
Earl Smith .346 1926 105 292 29 101 17 2 2 46 28 7 .407 .438 .845
Johnny Bassler .346 1924 124 379 43 131 20 3 1 68 62 11 .441 .422 .864

The only guy in front of him on this list, Babe Phelps, was a part-time catcher when he hit .367 in 1936, catching just 98 of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 154 games that season, second to teammate Ray Berro.

Back to Mauer.

He tailed off significantly after concussions forced his move to first base in 2013, but will finish his career as the Twins’ all-time leader in doubles and times on base. He currently ranks second in hits, walks and games played, as well as third in runs scored. Kirby Puckett’s hits record remains within reach. Another season or two would likely be enough.

Mauer remains noncommittal about his future plans, but both options present a little intrigue.

Returning for another season would mean a new deal, as the eight-year, $184 million deal he signed in 2010 is officially up.

He remains, as we’ve noted in the past, undeniably clutch.

Mauer hit .407/.500/.617 in 81 at-bats with runners in scoring position this year, and was hitting .300 while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense as recently as a year ago.

Retiring would mean the next phase in an ongoing debate over his case for the Hall of Fame.

By at least one metric — baseball writer Jay Jaffe’s JAWS, more on that here — he has a case. Mauer ranks seventh (appropriate) amongst catchers, behind Yogi Berra and ahead of Bill Dickey. All but two members of the top 10 are in the Hall of Fame.

Even if those numbers aren’t enough for the Hall, they’re probably enough for a statue at Target Field.

He’d better be wearing his catcher’s gear.