Joe Mauer has collected 1,011 hits over the course of his seven-year career, averaging about 196 per 162-game season. At that rate, it would take him another ten years to reach the 3,000 mark, and given that he will be just 28 next year, it seems reasonable to think he will do so. Reaching 3,000 hits isn’t quite the milestone it used to be; some 20 players have joined the 3,000 hit club since 1901, but it would be a pretty big deal if Mauer did it, for one main reason: no catcher in baseball history has collected 3,000 career hits (though Ivan Rodriguez is pretty close, more on that after the jump).
Ivan Rodriguez, the career leader in hits among catchers, is just 183 hits away from 3,000. That he had just 948 hits in his first seven seasons provides even more reason to be optimistic that Mauer will reach the 3,000 mark.
Pudge is no longer the offensive powerhouse he once was, which isn’t surprising, considering that he’s nearly 40 years old, but he’s managed to collect 106 hits in each of the past two seasons. It’s hard to say how long he will keep playing, but he has a pretty good chance to become the first catcher in baseball history to collect more than 3,000 career hits. However, Pudge’s career also appears to be the exception, rather than the rule, among catchers. It’s taken him more than 10,000 plate appearances to collect 2,817 hits; no other catcher in baseball history has more than 9,853. Tom Tango had an interesting article on the aging curve of catchers; due to the physical demands of the position, it’s rare for a full-time catcher to reach more than 8,000 plate appearances (only eight have done so). Even the most durable catchers end up switching positions near the end of their careers, with most either moving to a position that isn’t as physically demanding (such as Johnny Bench), or serving in a more reduced role as a backup (like Gary Carter), after age 33.
How long Mauer will last at catcher has been the subject of speculation since he made his debut in 2004, and there is at least a little reason to be concerned about his health. Man Muscles has logged some 6187.1 innings behind the plate over the last seven seasons, but not without suffering a litany of health problems. A torn meniscus in his left knee ended a successful rookie season, and it began to bother him again late last year; he recently had minor surgery to help alleviate some of the irritation in the joint. He suffered a stress reaction in his leg in 2007, catching a career-low 91 games and batting a disappointing .293/.382/.426/.808. He had surgery to repair a kidney obstruction in 2009 and missed the first month of the season, though he ended up having the best offensive season of his career and won the AL MVP. And thanks to a bum shoulder, he got off to a slow start (by his standards) last season, but batted .373/.447/.524/.974 after the All-Star break. It’s hard to consider Mauer injury-prone when he’s started 693 games behind the plate since his rookie season, but his history indicates he will probably age more like a typical catcher, and not like Pudge Rodriguez. Mauer may not collect 3,000 hits, but he’s already won three batting titles and, provided he continues to be a productive hitter well into his thirties, he should end up in the Hall of Fame.
Erin is a contributing writer for Twinkie Talk. You can email her at erinm725 [at] gmail [dot] com.