Updated: 05/06/2014 1:42 PM KSTP.com By: Phil Malat
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Those of us who experienced the great joy of watching Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew play baseball also suffer from the memories of the ugliness that quite often takes center stage in this beloved game. Seeing Harmon in a Kansas City Royals uniform and Rodney in an Angels uniform fractured the heart as only the loss of a soul mate could do. And now all the so-called sports pundits and gurus are perfectly content to throw Justin Morneau on the same junk yard scrap heap as he moves toward free agency.
Let's begin with the reality that none of these so-called experts are willing to face, which is, that excellence in the form of the Twins winning 100 games in multiple seasons or multiple trips and victories in the World Series is not now, nor has it ever been, an organizational goal. The Twins commitment to success extends only as far as winning a divisional title or achieving, through a wild card berth, a trip to the playoffs. Excellence has never been part and parcel of the Twins DNA. As such they have devised an elaborate marketing scheme focused on convincing us that mediocrity is a beautiful thing worthy of our tax dollars and great celebration. Throwing Justin Morneau away will only serve in furthering the glorification of that grand marketing scheme.
Yes he is 32 years old and yes his home run totals are down but his over-all production is not. Grousing about his home run production is reminiscent of the silly grousing we were subjected to when Rod Carew was hitting .287 toward the end of his career. The experts all speculated that Carew was washed up while completely ignoring the fact that younger players would have gladly relinquished their Porches to hit only .287.
Halfway through the season (on July 5th), Morneau has knocked in 50 runs, has a .284 batting average, an OBS of .757 in 296 plate appearances over 77 of 82 ballgames. He is on target for another 100 RBI season which is still considered a pinnacle in any player's production, especially in Morneau's case where he is playing on a team that does not have a lead-off hitter. Among the current Twins, only Joe Mauer is capable of matching Morneau's current numbers. Younger players today would gladly relinquish their Bentleys for Morneau's production.
In addition, Morneau has worked his heart out playing through injuries that have badly hurt his production. He has been one of the most diligent Twins in his commitment to return to and stay in the lineup even when he has been in pain or suffering through slumps. Players like this are hardly common today.
When the focus of this most beautiful game becomes business and numbers it quickly becomes ugly. Numbers like age, comparing production to an MVP season, and the ugliest of all these numbers, MONEY. These considerations are not only demeaning to those who have given so much to an organization but tragic in building pride and tradition within those organizations.
Maybe - just maybe - the Twins for once - just once - could put aside the ugliness and say to a player like Morneau; "Based upon your work ethic, character and contribution to this organization, we wish ONLY to discuss what it will take to keep you in a Twins uniform for the remainder of your career. You have earned, and the fans deserve, at least that much respect."
Will this hurt the Twins chances of ever winning a World Series? Maybe - but then the Twins aren't committed to that lofty achievement anyway, so why should we care? Why not express some loyalty and gratitude when it will not, in any way, impede the Twins lust for mediocrity?
Morneau hit two homers against the Yankees on July fourth. If hitting home runs is what it will take to spare us the past indignity of the callousness perpetrated upon Killerbrew, Carew and the fans, and currently being contemplated for Morneau, we must beg the baseball gods to intervene in guaranteeing that Morneau's July 4th performance becomes a regular occurrence for the remainder of the season; even though serious doubt may still linger as to whether such a performance would be strong enough to offset the NUMBERS and garner the respectful treatment Morneau has earned and so richly deserves.
Phil Malat is a blogger for KSTP.com.