Herald Journal Columns
August 14, 2006, Herald Journal / Enterprise Dispatch

Mauer would join an elite list of Twins

By Matt Kane

Through Thursday, Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer was leading the American League in batting with a .361 average, 20 points better than Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

If Mauer can hold off Jeter and the rest of the league for the remaining month-and-a-half of the regular season, it would put him in an elusive class.

Winning a batting crown would make Mauer the third Twins’ player to do so, and the first since Kirby Puckett hit .339 in 1989.

Tony Oliva out-hit the rest of the league for the first time in 1965, and proved he was no fluke by successfully defending his title the next season. He batted .323 both seasons and added a third silver bat to his collection in 1971, when he hit .337.

Of course Oliva’s hitting prowess is a far cry from Rod Carew’s. While wearing a Twins uniform, Carew won seven batting titles from 1969 through 1978, and swept the category from 1972-75.

In 15 seasons, from 1965-78, Oliva and Carew combined to line-drive, slash, bloop, bunt, and frozen-rope their way to 10 batting titles to the rest of the league’s five.

Becoming the batting champion is a logical step for Mauer, who, with his “American Idol” cover spread on Sports Illustrated, is becoming a national name, not just in the baseball realms, but in the sporting world in general.

What more could baseball want, than the all-American kid becoming a star in the all-American sport?

He is already a Minnesota icon, and joining Oliva, Carew, and Puckett in any hitting category would make anybody who has every swing a bat proud.

But, becoming the fourth Twin to lead the league in batting would just scratch the surface of what Mauer would accomplish if he stands his ground at the top of the leader board.

Bringing home the batting crown would make Mauer the third catcher ever to win the title and the first in the 106-year history of the American League.

Mauer would become the first catcher to claim the crown in either league since 1942 when Ernie Lombardi hit .330 for the Boston Braves, of the National League.
Lombardi also won the crown in 1940, when he hit .353.

The first catcher to win a batting title was Bubbles Hargrove, who batted .353 in 1923 with the Cincinnati Reds.

As far as the Twins’ leader board, Puckett finished in the top 10 of American League hitters in his first eight full seasons and finished second twice. He hit .356 in 1988 and .329 in 1992. Boggs bettered Puckett in 1988 by hitting .366 and Edgar Martinez hit .343 in 1992.

Martinez also victimized former Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch in 1995. Martinez hit .356 that year, easily winning the award over Knobby, who batted .333.

Paul Molitor finished third in a Minnesota uniform in 1996, when he hit .341, and he was the bridesmaid to the winner when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993 (.332) and Milwaukee Brewers in 1987 (.352).

When it comes to leading the league in statistical categories, the Twins are no slouch, but most of the feats have come through pitching accomplishments. The majority of the offensive clout has come from one man — Harmon Killebrew.

Killebrew was the American League home run champion, or co-champion, five times — 1962-69 — while with the Twins (he also won the award in 1959 with the Washington Senators), averaging 47 long balls over that span. He also won the RBI title in 1962, ‘69 and ‘71, driving in 126, 140 and 119 runs respectively.
The only other Twin with a piece of offensive hardware on his mantle is Larry Hisle, who led the league with 119 RBI in 1977.

From the mound, Twins pitchers have won six win, five strikeout, and two ERA titles since 1961.

By how things are going this season, those numbers could rise, with Johan Santana leading everybody with 178 strikeouts and Francisco Liriano posting a 2.19 ERA.

With these young pitchers dominating their counterparts, it’s about time a Twins’ hitter like Mauer did the same.

Maybe there is something to those sideburns. Like Sampson.

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