Playing the "what if" game with Joe Mauer

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Mauer bat.jpgIt’s Mauer day. In addition to this morning’s piece, USA Today ran a scary “what-if” article about the 2001 draft when, as most of you know, the Twins had to choose between Mark Prior and Mauer, with most people at the time thinking that Prior was the better choice. That’s certainly changed now:

The Twins made the pick that perhaps forever changed franchise
history. Mauer won the American League MVP last year and is a
three-time batting champion and two-time Gold Glove winner. He is
considered one of the finest players in the game. Prior won 41
games his first four seasons with the Cubs, but just one game since
2005, and is now out of baseball. He still is battling shoulder woes
and is home in San Diego trying to resurrect his career . . .

. . . “You look back, and wow, it would have been a whole different things
going on if we had not taken Mauer,” [Mike] Radcliffe said, “and taken the
other guy. I don’t want to think about what would have happened if we didn’t.”

Hindsight obviously makes the choice a no-brainer, but hindsight could make it less of one if we think about it a bit. For example, what would have happened if the Twins had taken Prior and, instead of abusing him like Dusty Baker and the Cubs did, they brought him along slowly and carefully?  Maybe he still gets hurt — we’re still kind of guessing what pitcher abuse truly means — but maybe he turns into that Tom Seaver v.2.0.  Likely? Eh, probably not, but the point is that every point of historical divergence throws hundreds if not thousands of variables into play.  Think George Bailey not being born times 1000 and then cut Mark Prior some slack.

But if you insist on living in a what-if fantasy world when it comes to Joe Mauer, you can just start reading the Colorado Springs Gazette, because they’ve got the market cornered on that stuff:

Imagine Joe Mauer catching and hitting in the middle of the Rockies
order next to Troy Tulowitzki for the better part of the next decade. Crazy talk? Yes. It is wild speculation and, as far as I know, a
thought that hasn’t been entertained by anyone in the Rockies front
office. But it’s not as far-fetched as it seems . . .

You can probably guess where that’s heading. It’s the flipside of what Yankees and Red Sox fans say about the guy. Instead of expecting to get him because they’re entitled, the writer here thinks they should get him because, gosh, wouldn’t that be great!

Please, Minnesota, sign Mauer already and return us to the land of certainty.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.