Mauer, Morneau living up to famous moniker in 2006
Posted: Friday September 1, 2006 5:03PM; Updated: Friday September 1, 2006 6:07PM
Joe Mauer is leading the American League in batting while playing superbly behind the plate.
Justin Morneau has become the power threat the Twins have lacked for years.
Last year the Minnesota Twins' two bright young stars-in-the making, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, were quickly dubbed the new "M&M Boys" after the Yankees' famous duo of the early '60s, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Although Mauer was duly impressive during his first full season in the big leagues, Morneau struggled to live up to the hype. By the end of 2005, it seemed as if their moniker was premature.
One year later, the M&M nickname doesn't seem quite so presumptuous. Powered by their dynamic duo, the Twins come to the House that Ruth Built for a three-game series against the Yankees this weekend trailing the White Sox in the AL wild-card race by just a half-game. Morneau is batting .315 with 32 home runs and 110 RBIs, making him the first Twins slugger to hit at least 30 home runs in almost 20 years. Meanwhile, Mauer is hitting .350 as he attempts to become only the third catcher in history to win a batting title.
Still, as memorably as the young housemates (Mauer is 23, and Morneau 25) have performed this year, not everyone is entirely comfortable with the historical comparison.
"I would rather call them the "J&J Boys,'" Twins broadcaster Bert Blyleven told Baseball Analysts' Rich Ledererearlier this season. "In my opinion there is only one set of 'M&M Boys' and that was Mantle and Maris."
In 1960, during his first year in New York, Maris narrowly edged out Mantle for the AL MVP, 225 votes to 222. The following year, of course, Maris broke Babe Ruth's single-season mark for home runs. Again, he barely beat Mantle for the MVP Award, 202 to 198.
While Maris was thoroughly miserable in New York, his success turned his roommate Mantle into a fan favorite. Mantle had spent the majority of his career unsuccessfully trying to live up to the legend of Joe DiMaggio in the minds of many New Yorkers. The closeness of the MVP voting in both '60 and '61 suggests that there was a split perception about which player was most valuable. Maris had two terrific seasons, but was there any doubt that Mantle was the greater player?
At this writing, both Mauer and Morneau are legitimate MVP candidates. Who you'd give your vote to says a lot about how you define most valuable: Is there a difference between being the best player and the most valuable?
While Mauer's season is a genuine rarity -- catchers just don't win batting titles, especially those who stand 6-foot-4 -- the sentiment coming out of Minnesota has favored Morneau, whose offensive production has been greater than Mauer's.
"Morneau's by far our MVP," Torii Hunter told the Star Tribune on Aug. 11. "Joe is having a great season, but if you look at homers and RBI ... well, if it wasn't for Morneau, we wouldn't be in it." At the same time, a poll of 11 AL GMs conducted in this week's Sports Illustrated gave seven votes for Mauer, and four to Morneau.
So who would you vote for? The power-hitting first baseman or the great all-around catcher?
Mauer, who made the cover of SI this summer, is "the blue chip prospect who's right as rain behind the plate," says Baseball Prospectus analyst Christina Kahrl. "He was born good and is effortlessly ascending into undisguised, unblemished greatness."
Mauer is a hometown hero who signed a letter of intent to play quarterback for Bobby Bowden at Florida State before the Twins inked him to a $5.5 million bonus as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft. But aside from his trademark sideburns -- which spawned their own promotion night at the Metrodome -- and his considerable local following, neither Mauer nor the fair-haired Canadian Morneau have the kind of larger-than-life personality that has grabbed the rest of the country's attention.
"The truth is, Mauer and Morneau have to have one of the highest-talent to-charisma ratios in Twins history," says Anne Ursu, who writes the off-beat and wildly entertaining Batgirl Web site. "This is not to say that they are in any way unlikable, they just are not exactly brimming with personality. There's this commercial featuring Mauer that gets played all the time for Land O' Lakes Milk and it sounds like some mid-pubescent boy is doing the morning announcements over the school PA. Yet both radiate a fundamental Minnesotan/Canadian decency that makes them very appealing."