Monday, May 26, 2008
Joe and KG
I did want to post one other thing quickly and encourage comments below on a topic that has bothered me for years. I heard someone on the radio talking about it again today and it annoys me more than just about any topic in the world, I think!
I donít understand some things, I guess. How is it that other teamís star players are unbelievable and can do no wrong while Minnesota sports stars seem to get little respect. I think that Joe Mauer and Kevin Garnett are so similar in that way. Each is one of the top players at his position in his respective sport.
Kevin Garnett starred in Minnesota for the Timberwolves for a dozen years. He was far and away the best player that Minnesota basketball fans have ever seen. He did everything. He was a top defensive player every year. He played with energy and heart and left everything on the floor. He averaged over 20 points per game. He frequently led the NBA in rebounds and was a good offensive rebounder. He could shoot from outside and had enough inside game too. For a seven footer, he was a decent ball handler and the best passing big man Iíve ever seen in basketball. In an era where many people complain aloud about how the NBA was too much of an individual game and full of selfishness, Kevin Garnett was always incredibly unselfish. Remember when Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell came to the team and Sports Illustrated wanted him on their cover. He said he wouldnít do it without the other two players. He did a lot in the community. He was just as good a basketball player as there has been.
Joe Mauer is a Minnesota kid whose prep career in baseball, football and basketball was well chronicled. He was the #1 overall pick in the 2001 draft, ahead of Mark Prior. He played less than 250 minor league games before coming up to the Twins. He hit over .300 in limited playing time due to injury in that rookie year. In 2006, he won the batting title, the first catcher in major league history to lead the entire major leagues in batting average. In 2007, he didnít hit as well, but he continued to take walks, hit doubles and get on base. He is generally considered one of the top catchers in the league. He definitely takes care of the oppositionís running game while calling a great game. He is quiet. Iíve been told that he is Ďgenuinely a great guy.í He has done everything that a Minnesota fan should look for in a player, especially one who is still just 25 years old.
But each has his fault in the eyes of some Minnesota sports fans. Really, in each case, it isnít so much a fault as it is a lesser part of his game.
As unselfish as Kevin Garnett is, some say he is too unselfish. Sure, he scores over 20 points a game, but people say that he canít and doesnít try to take over a game late in games. Not the way that Michael Jordan did, or the way Lebron James or Kobe Bryant does. And yet, part of what makes those guys able to do that is that they are not seven footers. They have much better ability to control the ball with the dribble than a guy KGís height. Secondly, I have always admired the confidence he has shown in teammates and I canít help but think that over a season, that means a lot. A player should not change his game regardless. Kobe Bryant is a scorer, no doubt, but he canít do all of the things Garnett does, but people donít notice. Lebron doesnít play defense or do some other things as well as Garnett. Kevin Garnett is the most unselfish, most complete player in the NBA, and people need to realize that. Yes, he has shown that he needs his teammates around him many games. Thatís ok. Would the Lakers be where they are right now without Lamar Odom, Pao Gasol and others? Who is the Pistonsí go-to guy? People just donít understand that Garnett is one of the best all-around players to play the game of basketball. The fact that heís a great teammate and unselfish should not be considered a negative.
Joe Mauer doesnít hit home runs. Thatís it. He hits for average. Hits doubles. Gets on base. Takes pitches. Uses the whole field. But he doesnít hit the ball over the fence. Thatís his thing. He is brutally criticized by the local media and many fans who donít look at the big picture. He doesnít drive in enough runs. He is too nice. Why isnít hitting .330 and getting on base 44% of the time enough? Why doesnít playing great defense and handling a pitching staff enough? Why does he have to hit for power? Because he is the #3 hitter in the Twins lineup? Does he write the lineup? Who would be a better option? Who is the Twins best hitter? In a Ďclutchí situation, down by one run with runners on second and third and two outs, which Twins hitter do you want at bat? Joe Mauer is one of the top three or four all-around catchers in baseball, and again, heís just 25. I just donít understand the venom with which some people are so against Mauer.
To the credit of each, they have not given in to the media and (some) fan backlash. They have done what coaches always tell players, stay within yourself, know your strengths and accentuate them. I admire that in each of them, and I think each should be credited. If Joe Mauer swung the bat differently and tried to hit more home runs, what would it do to his overall play? Would the batting average drop? Would he get on base less? Would he be a better catcher? Would the Twins win more games? Kevin Garnett could take every last shot, or all of his teamís shots in the final quarter. He could throw up 25 shots every game. But at what cost? Would he still be able to play good defense and get as many rebounds? Would he be able to play as many minutes? What would his field goal percentage be? If it drops below what he normally shoots, does it really make sense for him to keep hoisting up shots, especially when heís got four other guys on the court, likely one much more open?
No, I think that both should be liked and admired for what they are, not for what they arenít. I am certain there are plenty of examples of players who tried to do too much and failed. Both are All-Stars in their sport. Kevin Garnett is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. If Mauer can stay healthy, maybe he gets into Cooperstown. Who knows? But for my money, I enjoy watching both of them play their game and really donít want to see them change their games.