Commentary

Joe Mauer gets to stay at home

Eight-year, $184 million extension keeps native son where he belongs -- in Minnesota

Updated: March 22, 2010, 2:12 AM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

It had to happen. It was meant to happen. And the Twins and Joe Mauer made it happen.

It took $184 million of hard-earned Pohlad family money, spread out over eight years. But that's not all it took.

It took a realization on all sides that Joe Mauer had to be a Twin, forever and ever. Or at least 'til retirement or worn-out kneecaps get in the way.

That meant Mauer himself had to realize that. And his esteemed agent, Ron Shapiro, had to realize that. And the folks who have access to the Twins' checking account had to realize that.

This couldn't be about the last dollar or the most dollars. This couldn't be about allowing this negotiation to muddle on until next winter, whereupon the mad bidding war with the Red Sox and Yankees would have blown up Rumor Central.

No, this was a negotiation that had to be based on a single fundamental principle: that Joe Mauer was meant to be a Twin, whatever that took.

Everybody should understand now that what it took was a historic contract, not some little bargain-basement, hometown-discount kind of deal. This was Joe Mauer we were talking about, after all. There was never any chance he was going to work as cheap as, say, Alexi Casilla.

This was the largest contract in baseball history ever given to a catcher. It was the largest ever given to a Twin. It was the largest ever given to any player who was not known as either "Derek Jeter" or "A-Rod."

So this was no charity case here. This man got superstar, MVP-level money. And that's what he deserved. Anything less would have been an embarrassment to all concerned.

[+] EnlargeJoe Mauer
AP Photo/Morry GashJoe Mauer is a Minnesotan, and the fans have certainly embraced one of their own.

But we should also understand the What Might Have Been portion of this story. We should also understand that the money Mauer left on the table was undoubtedly somewhere in the neighborhood of the gross national product of Anguilla. Maybe more.

The other day in spring training, I found myself sitting with a bunch of longtime scouts. The subject was Joe Mauer in general, and the amount of money he could make in particular.

"In a way," said one of those scouts, "I hope he gets out on the market next winter, because I'd love to see the Yankees and the Red Sox bidding against each other on that guy."

We'll never know now how high they might have gone. But the annual salary everyone casually seemed to agree on was 30 million bucks. The only question was how many years. They never did settle on that. But let's just say that eight years was lower than any number thrown out there.

After that portion of the conversation concluded, though, everyone casually agreed on one more point: They didn't really want to see this man become a member of the Yankees or Red Sox. That just wouldn't have felt right.

We don't get many fairy tales in modern sports anymore. It's not that kind of business. It's not that kind of world.

But what Joe Mauer means to Minnesota is about as close as it gets.

Born in St. Paul. Grew up a Twins fan. Idolized Kirby Puckett. Always seemed to be the best athlete in the whole state at whatever sport anybody was playing that week.

And then the Twins -- his team -- made him the No. 1 pick in the entire baseball draft. Which launched Joe Mauer on a path toward a level of hometown heroism that seemed way too Hollywood to be real-life Minnesota material.

Along that path, he accumulated three batting titles, two Gold Gloves and a near-unanimous MVP award. And he handled it all with such class and humility, you wanted to plaster his image on every billboard and cereal box within a thousand miles.

"He's baseball. He's what's good about the game," Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson told me one day last spring. "I'll tell you, I wouldn't say this about anyone, but he's one guy you wouldn't mind your daughter marrying."

Yeah, he really said that. In actual life.

[+] EnlargeJoe Mauer
Tom Dahlin/Getty ImagesConcerned about how many years of this eight-year extension Joe Mauer will spend behind the plate? Well, stop. Just enjoy that he's not going anywhere.

Then, last November, Mauer became the fifth MVP in Twins history. And he decided, of course, that the only fitting way to commemorate the occasion was to bring just about every relative he could round up to the news conference.

They were all there: parents, grandparents, brothers, nieces -- proud Minnesotans every one of them. He might have missed a few cousins and household pets. But he made every resident of the whole darned state feel like family. And that was the whole point.

This is the part of his story that separates Joe Mauer from Derek Jeter, from Mariano Rivera, from Chipper Jones, from Albert Pujols, from pretty much any active player who now seems inextricably connected to the team he plays for.

It isn't only the franchise that has built around Joe Mauer. It's the state of Minnesota itself at this point.

So how could this contract not get done?

The forces in the universe demanded it. Thank heaven, everybody was listening when they did.

Clearly, the Twins knew that, with a new ballpark about to open its gates thanks to the generous taxpayers of their state, this deal had to happen.

And clearly, Shapiro -- the same agent who made sure Cal Ripken Jr. never left Baltimore and Puckett never left Minnesota -- understood that there are still people in the world whose lifelong dreams do not involve playing alongside the Major Deegan Expressway.

And obviously, Mauer himself listened to the sounds of the heavens whispering in his ear. When all the forces of nature conspire to point you toward the right place, only the stubborn or the greedy tune them out. Fortunately, Joe Mauer doesn't fit either description.

So now here he is, where he had to be, where he needed to be, where baseball needed him to be.

He'll be 35 when this deal expires. So we should probably mention that sometime between now and then, he and the Twins have some baseball decisions to contemplate.

How long can he catch? How long should he catch if they're going to get their whole $184 million worth? And if he's not going to catch 'til the end of this contract, how should they handle his transition to his next position?

But there will be plenty of time to sort all that out. Plenty. If there's really anyone in the state of Minnesota walking around today, wondering how the Twins will line up in 2018, it's time to relax, order up a mug of Schell's and think about that sort of thing some other time.

That's because for this time, for this place, it's never been better to be an official Minnesotan. Or even an unofficial Minnesotan.

Your team is now going to be constructed around one of your people for as far as the mind's eye can see. And that's the kind of phenomenon that doesn't come along nearly enough in modern sports.

But this time, it had to happen. It was meant to happen. And for once, the right player, the right agent and the right team came along to recognize that they couldn't possibly have it any other way.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com