It was a Tuesday in June and anticipation was building in the Mauer household. The hometown Minnesota Twins held the first pick in the 2001 Major League Baseball draft and they had scouted every move of the family’s youngest son, Joe — whether it came on the diamond, the gridiron or the basketball court — for years.
Family and friends gathered, awaiting the news.
When it finally came, there was jubilation in St. Paul. The Minnesota Twins had selected the local kid.
“This is kind of a fairy tale,” Mauer, 18, said at the time.
It was another Tuesday, this one in January, more than 22 years later. The Mauers gathered once again, awaiting more good news.
Mauer’s major league career lasted 15 seasons, all with the hometown Twins, during which he proved that he was one of the best — if not the best — catcher of his generation. And on Tuesday, in recognition of that, Mauer’s fairy tale career was given its happily ever after.
Joseph Patrick Mauer, St. Paul’s native son, the pride of Cretin-Derham Hall and one of the best to ever don a Twins uniform, was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday night.
“It’s been a whirlwind of emotions,” the newly-elected Mauer said. “I’m just so thankful.”
Mauer spent the day at home, much of it playing Wiffle Ball in the basement with his 5-year-old son, Chip, who helped keep his mind occupied as he awaited the news of a lifetime.
He knew he had been tracking well on publicly-revealed ballots, but was still anxious — and excited — for the vote reveal. It wasn’t until the phone rang and Jack O’Connell of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America delivered the news Mauer had been hoping for that the “emotions started to really flood.”
“It’s been a crazy couple of months,” he said. “I’m glad I won’t have to do that next year and the year after that.”
The 40-year-old Mauer garnered 76.1 percent of the vote, just over the 75 percent threshold necessary for admission to baseball’s hallowed halls. Mauer, who will forever be remembered amongst the game’s legends, is just one of 20 catchers to receive the honor.
The St. Paulite was voted in by the BBWAA alongside Adrián Beltré and Todd Helton and is one of just 60 players — and three catchers — elected on the first ballot. When inducted on July 21, he will become the seventh player — fitting for No. 7 — to enter the Hall of Fame as a Minnesota Twin and the fourth hall of famer born in St. Paul, joining Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield and Jack Morris.
Mauer gained entry for a career during which he hit .306, won three Gold Gloves, three batting titles and five Silver Slugger Awards and was elected to six All-Star Games. The 2009 American League Most Valuable Player spent 10 seasons behind the plate before a concussion forced him to first base for the final five seasons of his career.
“For somebody who was built up being a hometown kid, being built up the way he was, it was almost impossible for him to live up to those expectations,” his good friend and former teammate, Justin Morneau, said. “Somehow, he managed.”
At the time he debuted in 2004, Mauer was the No. 1 prospect in baseball, and he quickly established himself as a star, leading the American League in hitting in 2006 (.347), 2008 (.328) and 2009 (.365) and becoming the only catcher in MLB history to accomplish the feat thrice in the process.
He ensured his entire career was spent playing just miles away from where he grew up rooting for Twins legends like Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek by signing an eight-year, $184 million contract extension with the Twins — then the richest deal in franchise history — in 2010 to keep him in his home state for good.
“I can’t imagine there’s another player in Twins history that there was greater anticipation for or more pressure on to deliver than Joe Mauer,” Twins president and CEO Dave St. Peter said. “To be picked 1-1 in the draft, to come from Cretin-Derham Hall to the Twins and then to go on and have a Hall of Fame career, that’s storybook.”
That’s not to say his storybook career didn’t come with some speedbumps. In the second game of his major league career, Mauer injured his knee, which required surgery and sidelined him for most of the 2004 season.
An issue the Twins dubbed “bilateral leg weakness” disrupted his 2011 season and a concussion suffered in August 2013 drastically altered the trajectory of his career, ending both his season and his time behind the plate. Mauer would put on the catcher’s gear to receive one last pitch in 2018 during an emotional final game of his career before opting to retire that offseason, citing his health and his family.
Through both triumph and adversity, Mauer remained the same steady person, exemplifying the values instilled in him by his parents, Teresa and Jake, who passed away last January, a year before his son was bestowed with baseball’s highest honor.
“Joe’s always been an incredibly respectful and polite young man,” St. Peter said. “… I think he brings a level of humility to the table that endears him to every single person he ever meets. There’s just no errors about Joe Mauer. Never has been.”
That personality — along with the immense talent that was evident in Mauer even as a young boy — has made him one of the most beloved figures in franchise history, a favorite of generations of Twins fans.
Beginning in July, those same Twins fans can venture to Cooperstown, N.Y., walk through the famed Plaque Gallery and find Mauer’s image proudly displayed among the top 1 percent of players to ever play the game. That plaque will forever serve as an engraved visual of that fairy tale journey that began all those years ago in St. Paul.
“You know that old saying ‘local boy does good’?” said Terry Ryan, the general manager who selected Mauer. “There’s no more proof than Joe Mauer.”