Commentary

The Coen brothers' take on Joe Mauer

Originally Published: November 25, 2009
By Jim Caple | Page 2

Will the Minnesota Twins be able to re-sign American League MVP Joe Mauer? With apologies to Minnesota's Coen brothers, his saga could play out like this …

"FARGO 2: RAISING MOOLA FOR THE BIG JOE-BOWSKI, or NO COUNTRY FOR SMALL MARKET GMs"

Off Base

[The following text fades in over black]

This is a true story, or at least, it will be. The events here will take place in the following few months as Bill Smith, general manager of the Minnesota Twins, scrambles to re-sign native son and newly christened AL MVP Joe Mauer.

[Fade to white]

[As the camera focuses in, we see the white is from a Minnesota blizzard blowing through the Twins' brand-new ballpark. The field is covered under 3 feet of fresh snow. We hear a voice calling through the thick of the blizzard. We can't quite make it out amid the howling wind, but the voice gradually grows louder and louder until we can identify the speaker.]

Wally the Beer Man: Cold beer here! Get your cold beer!

[Yes -- despite the blizzard, the Twins are playing a game against the hated New York Yankees. We see a home run sail through the snow and land on the concourse in right field. The camera follows the ball as it gathers snow with every bounce, turning into a giant snowball that eventually bounds out of the ballpark, through downtown Minneapolis, across the Mississippi River, along I-94 and into St. Paul. As it bounces, we hear the voice of the narrator.]

Narrator: A way out in the upper Midwest there is this fella, doncha know … a fella who is not at all funny-looking … a fella I want to tell you about … a fella by the name of Joe Mauer. Now, there are so many Mauers in the Twin Cities that you can hardly walk through the skyway to the old Dayton's store without you bumping into a half-dozen. So the hardworking, blue-collar folks here in Minnesota never use his last name. They just call him Joe or The Dude or more likely, The Man.

Yah, because sometimes there's a man who, well, he's a man for his time and place -- a man who can catch like his glove is a goose-feather pillow, and can lead the league in batting and OPS and VORP and all those other newfangled stats those highfalutin' folks use back East to make themselves feel smart. He is so handsome he makes the girls scream and the men wish he was their son-in-law. Yet, he's still humble and polite and as silent as a Christmas Eve snowfall. Plus, he likes to ice-fish to boot. He fits right in there -- and that's Joe, The Dude, The Man, right here in God's country, Minnesota, Land o' 10,000 Lakes (even though we got closer to 20,000 -- we don't like to brag).

Only problem is, Joe is almost eligible for free agency, and the Twins -- well, the Twins are owned by the Pohlads, who pinch their coins so much that Susan B. Anthony should sue for sexual harassment. And so, how is a humble general manger like Bill Smith supposed to re-sign him?

[Cut back to stadium]

[As the narrator's voice fades, we return to the ballpark, where Joe is back in the batter's box. Apparently, even though his home run sailed well over the fence in right-center, umpire Phil Cuzzi called it foul. As Joe waits for the next pitch, he chats with Yankees catcher Jorge Posada.]

Joe: Beautiful day, isn't it, Jorge?

Posada: [Brushing snow out of his mask] Does it ever warm up here?

Joe: Yeah, usually around Memorial Day.

Posada: This is Memorial Day.

Joe: It is? Wow. I've lost all sense of time, what with the fuss over my contract negotiations.

Posada: How's that going? Twins make an offer yet?

Joe: I think they're talking with my agent right now.

Posada: I hope you get what you're looking for. You belong in Minnesota.

Joe: That's nice of you to say, Jorge.

Posada: Not really. I just want to keep my job.

[Cut to GM Bill Smith's office]

[Smith sits in his office, discussing Joe's contract with Joe's agent, Ron Shapiro.]

Shapiro: In addition to the $125 million, Joe will need another $5 million for the Tru-Coat sealant on his car.

Smith: $5 million?

Shapiro: Annually.

Smith: Gee, I dunno, that sounds pretty expensive for Tru-Coat.

Shapiro: Maybe so -- but see, if Joe doesn't get Tru-Coat, he'll get oxidation problems. And if that happens, he'll have to consider driving his car in a warmer climate -- say, New York or Boston, if you know what I mean. And Joe filing for free agency will cost you a whole lot more than this here Tru-Coat.

Smith: Well, I'll have to run it past Mr. Pohlad and see what he says.

[Smith leaves the office briefly. He walks across the hall to the general manager's suite overlooking the field, where he sees Yankees GM Brian Cashman and several nihilists dressed in black, pinstriped bodysuits urinating on an oriental rug.]

Smith: Hey! That rug really tied the whole ballpark together!

[Cashman laughs, and tosses Smith a mock "Yankees 2011 world champions" picture with Joe Photoshopped into the team. Dejected, Smith walks back across the hall and re-enters his office. He sits at his desk and addresses Shapiro.]

Smith: Well, Pohlad's never done this before -- but seeing as it's a special circumstance and all, he says I can offer Joe another $200 for the Tru-Coat. But that's a one-time thing -- not an annual deal. And I don't think he'll go for the $125 million thing, either.

[+] EnlargeJoe Mauer
AP Photo/Tom OlmscheidWhere will Joe Mauer be playing in 2011? The drama could be surreal.

[Shapiro shakes his head in disbelief and gets up to leave.]

Shapiro: Billy, you're out of your element.

[After Shapiro exits, Smith repeatedly bangs his head on his desk in frustration.]

Smith: Where am I going to get $125 million for Joe? I can hardly afford Nick Punto.

[Cut to Hubert's Bar across from the Metrodome]

[Smith is sitting at a table across from two men. The first man, Karl, is skinny and kind of funny-looking. His Nordic partner, Gaear, is bigger and expressionless.]

Karl: I don't get this deal. You want us to kidnap Joe Mauer and ransom him back to you for $160 million so you can re-sign him for $125 million? It doesn't make sense.

Smith: Sure it does. See, I'm not the one paying the ransom. Pohlad would pay it. He has his own ethical code. He won't give an agent that kind of money to sign a player, but he will pay it to get Joe back from kidnappers. So he gives me the ransom money, and instead of paying you all of it, I keep $155 million and use that to re-sign Joe for $125 million. See?

Karl: If you take $155 million and sign Joe for $125 million, where does the other $30 million go?

Smith: Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan.

[Cut to the Twins clubhouse]

[Minnesota state trooper Marge Gunderson, Maricopa County officer Edwina "Ed" McDunnough and West Texas sheriff Tom Bell look at the mess in the Twins' clubhouse, trying to reconstruct Joe's recent kidnapping.]

McDunnough: From the looks of it, I'd say the kidnappers surprised Joe from behind while he was on his way out to batting practice.

Bell: I declare, I don't know what the world is coming to. Used to be, a player would sit down across from an owner and agree to a new $35,000 contract and be happy with it. Some of the old-time owners didn't even wear a gun … but I wouldn't advise that when going up against some of the agents the players employ now.

Gunderson: Any suspects?

Bell: Something this cold-blooded and brazen, I'd have to say someone totally without any moral code whatsoever. We best talk to the Yankees, or maybe the Red Sox.

Gunderson: I'm not sure I agree with you 100 percent on your police work there.

Bell: Why not?

Gunderson: If the Yankees or the Red Sox wanted Joe this badly, they would just wait until free agency and offer him a blank check. Tell him he'll never win a World Series in a small market like Minnesota, but he could win one with them.

No, from the looks of it, I'd say this is the work of someone desperate, poor and not too intelligent.

McDunnough: You mean the Pirates?

Gunderson: Yah, or the Royals.

[Cut to the Pohlad mansion]

[Smith visits the magnificent marbled living room of billionaire owner Jim Pohlad, who, on this late-May day in Minnesota, is warming himself by a raging fire, with a plaid blanket spread over his lap.]

Pohlad: I'm supposed to give these people $160 million? Why?

Smith: So that we can get Joe back safely.

Pohlad: Joe Mauer is an achiever. These kidnappers are nothing more than bums. Give them my condolences. Their revolution is over. The bums lose. They will always lose. If they want money, tell them to get a job, like their parents. On the other hand, they're better than agents.

Smith: But sir, Joe is in danger. This aggression will not stand!

Pohlad: Yes, so? Every time a catcher is kidnapped in this city, I'm supposed to compensate?

Smith: Joe really ties the ballclub together, sir.

Pohlad: He does, does he?

Smith: He led the league in batting and OPS, and hit a career-high 28 home runs with 96 RBIs last season despite missing the first three weeks with a bad back. He's a three-time batting champ, a three-time All-Star, a former No. 1 pick, and he was a near-unanimous choice for MVP. And he's from Minnesota. The fans love him. Ticket sales and revenues will plummet if we don't get him back.

Pohlad: Hmmm. In that case, I suppose we have no choice. Very well. Tell Cratchit to give you the $160 million out of petty cash … at least it's better than giving it to an agent.

[Cut to a lonely road outside the Twin Cities]

[Ransom in hand, Smith is on his way to sign Joe when he is pulled over by Marge Gunderson's patrol car. The trooper inside is not Gunderson, however, nor Bell, nor McDunnough. He is Anton Chigurh, a psychotic killer with a ridiculous page-boy haircut. Chigurh gets out of the car. With one hand, he pulls a blood-stained wood chipper. With the other he carries a high-pressure air gun used to kill cattle by punching a steel rod into their skulls. He is, of course, a player agent.

[Chigurh orders Smith out of the car and tells him to hand over the money, all $160 million. He then places the air gun's nozzle against Smith's forehead.]

Chigurh: What's the most you've ever lost on a coin toss? Call it.

Smith: What do you mean? I don't know what we're playing for?

Chigurh: Everything.

[Smith glances at the bloody wood chipper and realizes his life is at stake. With sweat dripping down his face, he nervously makes his call.]

Smith: Heads.

[Chigurh flips the coin with his right hand and slaps it onto the back of his left wrist. With Smith waiting anxiously, he slowly lifts his hand to reveal the coin.]

Chigurh: Heads it is. You win. Joe will be happy to sign a five-year contract extension with the Twins. Just so long as you pay for the Tru-Coat.

Smith: Wait a second. You're telling me that you represent Joe? Since when did Ron Shapiro start hiring psychotic killers as assistants?

Chigurh: He didn't. Joe changed agents this morning. I work for Scott Boras.

[Cut to the ballpark]

[The snow is gone. It is now a beautiful, crisp late-autumn night and Joe is playing in the World Series. We see Joe hitting a home run, circling the bases and being mobbed by his teammates as he crosses home plate.]

Narrator: Last night I dreamt I was as light as the ether, floating like a lazy Nick Punto fly ball over the outfield and seeing things to come. I dreamt of an October night in the not too distant future and Joe was holding a World Series trophy while being sprayed with champagne after beating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the bottom of the ninth of the last game. I dreamt that his general manager was named executive of the year, and his team, flush with money from a new ballpark, was signing free agents right and left from the Yankees and Red Sox, who had fallen into a tie for last place. And I don't know. You tell me. This whole dream, was it wishful thinking? Was I just fleeing reality as I know I'm prone to do? But it seemed real. It seemed like home. If not Minnesota, well, then a land, not far away, where the owners are generous and the umpires are wise and capable and all the seats are always filled with happy fans and the players are strong and beloved and work the count.

I dunno, maybe it was Anaheim.

TELL YOUR STATISTICS TO SHUT UP

• Mauer is the first player from St. Paul to win an MVP award, but he's hardly the first great player from that city -- Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Jack Morris came before him, which is pretty impressive for somewhere covered by snow so many months of the year. But why is it that St. Paul has produced so many great baseball players and Minneapolis so few (go ahead, name one)? "You're getting me in trouble on this one," Mauer said. "Like you said, with St. Paul -- Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield and Jack Morris all grew up within maybe a mile of me. I played on a lot of the same fields as Molitor. There were great coaches in St. Paul, and some coaches who played with him. When I was real little, 8 or 9, I remember Paul coming back and speaking at our clinics. That's the way it is, there are guys who want to give back to the city."

• For any of those people (i.e., people loyal to teams that didn't draft him when they had the chance) who still question Tim Lincecum's durability, here's a question: If you could draft a guy who will win two Cy Youngs for you within three years and then burn out, wouldn't you still pick him over virtually anyone else? Wouldn't he still be a great draft pick no matter what happens to him down the line? I mean, Lincecum has already won more games than the majority of draft picks ever win in their careers. And he's healthy! He isn't showing any signs of burning out. He could wind up like Pedro Martinez. If he had a bigger body frame, there wouldn't be these questions. Of course, if he had a bigger body frame, some team would probably baby him with something they call the Lincecum Rules and use him in middle relief until a career of mediocrity was firmly established.

• Happy birthday to Ken Griffey Jr., who turned 40 over the weekend after first keeping us all feeling a little younger by not retiring.

• This week's movie/book tip: "An Education," starring Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan, with Alfred Molina, who seems to age slower than Jim Palmer.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can follow him on twitter at @jimcaple.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com