One of the best players in Major League baseball fell victim to a horrible mistake -- a later-confirmed blown call by an umpire -- that might have led his team to a crucial American League Playoff victory. Believe it or not, the professional player took the gaffe in stride, and even looked at himself and his own team's ineptness for the loss. What a victory for sportsmanship and reasoning in this day of hot-headed, raging pro athletes! Enter Joe Mauer.
Minnesota was hurt by a blown call by left-field umpire Phil Cuzzi in the top of the 11th with the game tied at 3-3. Joe Mauer started the inning with a drive down the line that appeared to go off Melky Cabrera's glove before clearly landing about a foot inside the line and bouncing into the stands. Cuzzi called the ball "foul."
Minnesota went on to load the bases with no outs but failed to score when David Robertson retired three straight batters. Delmon Young lined out to Teixeira at first, Mauer was cut down at home on Carlos Gomez's grounder and Bendan Harris flied out.
Then, Make Teixeira hit a leadoff drive off the top of the left field wall in the 11th inning to give the New York Yankees a 4-3 victory over the Twins on Friday night and a 2-0 lead in their AL playoff series.
Jack Curry of the New York Times (October 10, 2009) reported that Tim Tschida, the crew chief, said the umpires reviewed the videotape after the game and it was clear that “an incorrect decision” had been made.
After the game, Mauer was subdued as he noted how the Twins had numerous opportunities to win and failed. He was more critical of Minnesota's lapses than of Umpire Cuzzi's miscue. The Twins left 17 runners stranded on base during the game.
"They make mistakes, too," he said. "I guess he made a mistake there and just has to live with it. You try not to focus on that one play. We had our chances to win, and we just couldn't get it done."
Althought Major League Baseball uses six umpires during the postseason, two more umpires than baseball employs in regular-season games, human error can still occur. One of the extra umpires is stationed down the left-field line, and the other is stationed down the right-field line. So, Cuzzi was closer to the play than he would have been during the season, but he still missed it.
Fox Sports reported crew chief Tim Tschida said he looked at Mauer's ball after the game and admitted it was a blown call. "There's a guy sitting over in the umpire's dressing room right now that feels horrible," Tschida said. "Nobody feels it worse than the umpire."
Now, back to Joe Mauer. Joe is one of the Mauer clan with hardball in its genes: Joe's dad and three uncles played professionally, Joe's grandfather, Jake Sr., also played proball, and was most similar to Joe in terms of skills and makeup. And, of course, Joe's brother, is also a great baseball player selected by the Twins in the 23rd round, the same year Joe was taken by the Twins in the first round. The Mauers have a third brother, Billy, who signed with the Twins as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and pitched in the organization for three seasons before chronic shoulder problems forced him to retire from the game. Joe's parents raised the family in a home less than twenty minutes from the Metrodome. Joe, himself, began playing ball while in diapers-- really!
Here is what JockBio.com says of a guy nicknamed Gentleman Joe and his personality:
"For all the excitement Joe has created in the Twin Cities, he remains a remarkably level-headed guy. What you see on the field is what you get off the field. He hangs out with his family and high school friends, and likes to bowl, play video games and watch DVDs. In other words, he’s boring. Joe's teammates love him, but he is not exactly their first choice for wingman on a boys’ night out."
Joe designates time and effort in support of Twins' Rookie League and R.B.I programs...is an active member of the Minnesota Action Team, an expanding national youth volunteer initiative run by the Major League Baseball Players Trust and Volunteers of America.
In a commercial in 2006, Mauer appeared with a little kid in an homage to the famous Mean Joe Green Coca-Cola commercial. Instead of the jersey on Mauer’s back, Mauer gives his adoring fan Mauer’s own sideburns.
On a sports blog, one adoring lady fan put her admiration for Joe this way:
"Joe is a homegrown hottie in every sense. Sweet, charming smile. Delicious 6′5″ body, that’s growing taller by the day. Gorgeous blue eyes. He’s so lovely, I don’t even mind the Elvis-y sideburns (though Joe is rapidly growing tired of everyone else’s fascination with them). And he’s multi-talented: in addition to playing baseball and basketball in high school, he QB’ed his team to state title games and Bobby Bowden held a scholly slot open for the taking at FSU if and when Joe ever wanted it. Top off the classic all-American good looks and out-of-this-world athletic skills with Joe’s unassuming humility, and you’ve got a bona fide hottie."
Mauer is considered by many to be the best catcher in the sport and has been said by some, including Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., to have the best swing in baseball. ( Daniel Paulling, "Player in the Spotlight: Joe Mauer," July 7 2004) As for Mauer's place in history, with his third batting title, he has now won as many batting championships in a span of four years (2006-2009) as all Major League catchers in the history of baseball combined.
Joe, good luck in the rest of the playoffs. You have won one fan for a great thing you DIDN'T do: You were shortchanged, knew it, and accepted it as one of the fate's of baseball. You can be my wingman any day, Gentleman Joe.