Voters make Twins’ Joe Mauer a first-ballot Hall of Famer

Joe Mauer isn’t normally one to get tangled in paying attention to rumors or hype. Throughout his playing career, the Minnesota Twins legend prided himself on maintaining an even-keeled nature when it came to dealing with criticism, trade rumors and other distractions.

But after two months of slowly watching the ballots to determine whether he’d be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame trickle in via social media, Mauer admits he was happy for a distraction leading up to Tuesday’s announcement.

Mauer found one in his 5-year-old son, Chip, who doesn’t have school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Rather than constantly refresh the Hall of Fame Tracker internet page or watch MLB Network, Mauer instead spent several hours playing Wiffle ball with his son in the basement.

Early Tuesday evening, Mauer learned he’d been elected to the Hall of Fame, earning 76.1 percent of the vote. Receiving four more votes than were needed for election, Mauer was one of three players elected to the Hall on Tuesday, joining third baseman Adrián Beltré and first baseman Todd Helton. Longtime manager Jim Leyland was previously elected to the Hall of Fame in December by the 16-member Contemporary Baseball Era Committee.

“This is my first go at it and obviously there’s a lot of buzz leading up to (Tuesday) and people having opinions all across the board,” Mauer said. “I really didn’t know. I told my wife, obviously before the tracking started, and you can kind of see some of those ballots come out and the response that I got, I was definitely pleased and excited. But you just never know until they’re all counted. … (You) can’t do anything about it. (Guys) already had their say and their resume. It’s not like you can grab a bat and try to go out and get a hit for the game winner.”

Ultimately, a group of 385 Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters determined Mauer had enough game-altering moments during a playing career that spanned 15 seasons to be inducted. Only the 20th backstop to gain entry, Mauer joined Johnny Bench and Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez as the only first-ballot Hall of Fame catchers in baseball history.

“It’s not lost on me,” Mauer said. “It’s unbelievable. I’m still kind of pinching myself to receive that type of news.”

The first pick of the 2001 draft by his hometown team, the start of Mauer’s career had Hall of Fame written all over it. From the outset, Mauer was an offensive force playing a position best known for defense. But Mauer was equally good behind the plate, long earning the trust of his pitchers en route to winning three Gold Glove awards.

Still, Mauer’s bat did most of the talking.

In only his third season in the majors, Mauer batted .347 in 2006, earning the first of three American League batting titles. By also hitting for the best average in 2008 and 2009, Mauer owns three of the seven batting titles won by a catcher in MLB history.

His 2009 campaign — when Mauer batted .365/.444/.587 with 30 doubles, 28 home runs and 96 RBIs with 76 walks versus 63 strikeouts — registers as one of the better offensive seasons in baseball history and earned him an AL MVP award. Mauer continued on a Hall of Fame track, batting a combined .323/.405/.469 from 2004 to 2013.

But Mauer suffered a career-altering concussion late in the 2013 season, one that hurt his resume. Mauer dealt with the effects of his concussion for years, retraining his eyes to learn how to hit and occasionally dealing with sensitivity to light. When he suffered another concussion in 2018 diving for a ball, Mauer spent hours each day sitting in a dark room as he dealt with headaches.

For safety reasons, Mauer never put on the catcher’s mask again after the 2013 concussion, instead switching positions to first base. Though Baseball Reference credits him with accruing 10.6 WAR in five seasons, and he was flat-out robbed of a Gold Glove award there in 2017, Mauer didn’t hit as well as a typical first baseman. He batted .278/.359/.388 with 38 home runs in that period, a stretch some thought might hurt Mauer’s Hall of Fame candidacy.

“The last few years is probably not that peak or the way you want to remember a player,” Mauer said. “I was able to catch my first 10 years. I feel like that’s who I am as a baseball player, a catcher. Thankful to continue my career at first base, but I felt like we were the best version of the Minnesota Twins when I was at catcher.”

Enough voters chose to focus on Mauer’s outstanding seven-year peak behind the dish, one that ranks seventh among all catchers in baseball history, according to the Jaffe WAR Score system, which was created to evaluate players’ HOF candidacies. Mauer’s 47.1 JAWS score was better than the average HOF catcher (44.2) as was his 55.2 career bWAR compared with 53.6.

Over the past two months, Mauer performed well in voter ballots released via social media. Needing to be voted in by 75 percent of the electorate, Mauer consistently found himself sitting in the 82-84 percent range, plenty for election. As Tuesday’s HOF election announcement show began at 5 p.m. CT, Mauer sat at 83.5 percent according to the HOF Tracker, his name checked off on 182 of 218 ballots.

As expected, Mauer suffered a drop-off on ballots not made public before the announcement. Typically, voters who keep their ballots private vote for fewer players. Mauer’s name was only checked off on 111 of the remaining 167 ballots (66.4 percent). But he’d fared so well early in the count that Mauer had enough to be elected.

Not that he knew it.

“(Chip) had me running around,” Mauer said. “I don’t really react to rumors or anything until they actually happen. To receive that call was amazing and the emotions started to really flood. … It’s been a crazy couple of months. I’m glad I won’t have to do that next year and the year after that.”

(Photo: Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)

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