Jim Souhan's article from last Friday has a main point that I can agree with, and which I think many people often overlook. He argues that "there is no more underappreciated commodity in sports than persistent competence." And he's right. So many times, baseball fans take a World Series-or-bust approach, when that is quite simply not realistic. Those fans are setting themselves up for disappointment. Only 2 of the 32 Major League teams make the World Series, and of course just one of those two can win the title. Expecting that in any one season is irrational, never mind expecting it every season.
That's why I'm always satisfied to the see the Twins contending. Anything they do on top of that is above and beyond. And it's not because they're a small payroll team, because they aren't anymore--it's the simple mathematics of it. For those couple days or weeks a year they're in the postseason I root as hard as anyone else, and get as disheartened by anyone else when they lose, but in looking back on the season I'm satisfied that they were playing meaningful games until the end of September and into October.
This year, they're not. And that's when you might especially realize how you took for granted their 'persistent competence', as Souhan puts it. Even then, it's important not to overreact. The Twins had won six division titles in nine seasons prior. Only 6 teams, 1 out of every 5, can win a division each year. Given those facts, I think it's important to take and step back in an underwhelming season such as this one. The manager and the coaches, the players and the training staff, the owners and the front office--let's cut them all some slack. Since 2001, the Twins have been competitive every year except for 2007.
That's not to say we should give them a free pass, or that we shouldn't be proactive, but that we should avoid making blanket criticisms based on this year while ignoring everything these people have done in past years. Souhan confirms this, explaining that "[GM Bill] Smith and his staff deserve another shot," because "a year ago, I thought Smith and Co. were on an impressive winning streak. Now they're on a losing streak." The fact that Smith was ever on a winning streak is something many fans disagree with, but the sentiment is sound. He also gives the same leeway to Ron Gardenhire.
But he forgets to employ this wide perspective when it comes to one person: Joe Mauer. Having famously bashed Mauer for succumbing to a made-up injury a couple years ago, this time Souhan labels Joe Mauer "the most overpaid singles hitter in baseball." Souhan takes this potshot on the basis of 273 plate appearances in an injury-riddled 2011 campaign, overreacting in the same situation in which he had previously urged patience with Smith and Gardenhire.
Instead of considering 2009, when Mauer hit 28 homers and slugged .587, or even 2010 when he clubbed 43 doubles, he focuses on a small sample in which just about everything has gone wrong for the Twins, and Mauer specifically. Ignoring over 3500 career plate appearances to the contrary, he falls prey to not appreciating the persistent competence--or, more accurately, persistent excellence--Mauer has produced. Although he has no trouble appreciating it in a team-wide sense, he can't seem to do the same with Mauer's performance.
I, for one, am disappointed to hear media members dismissively calling Mauer "the most overpaid singles hitter in baseball" because, following six amazing seasons, he's had a rough half-season in which he's admitted he's been limited by injuries. Of course, that sort of confession probably only increases Souhan's derision, as he's called Mauer's toughness into question in the past. Let's chalk this statement up to a person who simply doesn't understand Mauer's value, and not let this sentiment gain any steam among Twins fans. I'll enjoy watching Joe hit for the rest of 2011, and I fully expect a rebound in performance in 2012.