Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Who is Justin Morneau?

Morneau slides in for the winning run of the 2008 All-Star Game in the 15th inning

Justin Morneau, the Twins' first basemen, hails from Canada and grew up playing and loving hockey.  Although he does not have the hometown appeal that Mauer does, he makes up one half of Minnesota's M&M Boys, beloved by Twins fans and feared by opposing pitchers.  Morneau is one of the very few true power hitters that Minnesota developed in its own minor league system, as the Twins have a penchant for valuing light-hitting speedsters and consequently producing that type of player.

After tearing through the minor leagues, Morneau put on the big league uniform for the first time in June of 2003.  His debut season was brief and not all that impressive, but he built on it in 2004, putting up substantial power numbers in the half-season he spent with the big league club.  The next season, 2005, was a struggle, as he was seemingly never himself for the rest of the year after getting hit in the head with a pitch in April.  This would prove all-too foreboding later on in his career.

Just as Joe Mauer did, Morneau put himself on the map with an awesome year in 2006.  He slugged 34 homers, the first Twin to hit more than 30 in twenty years, and drove in 130 runs, his first of four consecutive seasons with at least 100 RBIs, while also batting .321.  All this was good enough to earn him the MVP award despite the fact that he had not even made the All-Star team.  Morneau's selection was controversial, and rightfully so, but there was no doubt that he had put together a great year.

2007 saw Morneau make his first All-Star team, the first of four consecutive selections, but the second half was rough and he finished with numbers significantly worse than the year before.  He didn't play appreciably better in 2008, but the MVP voters viewed it differently as he finished runner-up.  He did have a great All-Star Weekend, winning the Home Run Derby and then scoring the winning run in the All-Star Game in the 15th inning.  The fact that he played all 163 games for the Twins may have been a factor in the MVP voting, and it certainly was a factor in Morneau again wearing down in September and playing poorly during the stretch run.

This would become a pattern, as Morneau's 2009 season also ended similarly.  He played poorly from mid-August on before his season closed prematurely due to a back injury, putting a damper on an otherwise very good season.  And it happened once more in 2010, although through little fault of Morneau's this time.  He put together an incredible first half, this time legitimately halfway to earning an MVP award, before he took a seemingly innocuous hit to the head when sliding into second base to break up a double play on July 7th.  As it turned out, Morneau had suffered a concussion and would not return to the field until 2011 Spring Training as a result of post-concussion symptoms.

His 2011 season has been a struggle.  Perhaps still affected by the concussion, either mentally or physically, and certainly affected by a myriad of other injuries, Morneau has battled through his worst season ever before finally succumbing to the Disabled List because of neck surgery.  The Twins' biggest power threat, and one of their most popular players, fans continue to hope that when Morneau returns this time it will be with all of these injuries behind him once and for all.

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