The Minnesota Twins are stuck in the middle of a rough stretch and while it easy to blame ownership, the real blame may belong with concussions.
As Minnesota Twins fans we sometimes forget how storied the franchise’s history really is. Maybe that is because in between some of the really good years there have been some really bad ones as well. We are looking at you most of the 1990s. Unfortunately, we are in the middle of one of those bad runs (outside of 2017) after a great start to the century.
Before I started to write about the Twins, and even more since starting to write, the biggest scapegoat I see attributed to why the Twins have had these sort of runs is ownership. Specifically, the reason for talent leaving or not coming is always because the Pohlads are “too cheap.”
Now very well there were likely some years where the Twins payroll could have grown a bit more than it did. Other years, there just was no one else that was worth spending money on. If I am honest Twins fans were in fact robbed of some really good players playing for the Twins. And it wasn’t money that robbed them of it, it was concussions.
It was July 7th, 2010 and Justin Morneau was in the middle of a phenomenal season. Coming into the game against the Toronto Blue Jays the Twins were 45-38 and a half game back of the division lead and Morneau was headed towards an All-Star game selection once again. He would never play in that All-Star game though as the concussion sustained in the 8th inning of that game at second base would end his season.
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Morneau was in the middle of a season that after going 2-for-4 on that day had him sitting at an incredible slash line of .345/.437/.618, a 1.055 OPS and he had already hit 18 home runs and 25 doubles. Down Morneau, the Twins did go on to go 94-68 after moving Michael Cuddyer to cover his place at first base. The fact that will always linger in Twins fans’ minds is what could have that team done if Morneau would have been in the lineup instead of Jason Kubel.
Fast forward to August of 2013, a pitch from Anthony Swarzak and a foul tip from Ike Davis and it was like Deja Vu. This time instead of Morneau suffering a concussion it was Joe Mauer experiencing a concussion. 2013 was a season in which Mauer had put together another (and last) All-star season at catcher as he hit .324/.404/.476 and an .880 OPS. It was also shortly after the Pohlad’s handing in 2011 gave Mauer his 8 year and $184 million contract.
Unlike 2010, Mauer’s concussion didn’t alter the course of that season as the Twins were in the middle of a losing season. In both cases, the concussions did alter the rest of each players’ career. It has been well documented, especially on the heels of his retirement, Mauer’s move to first base that resulted from his concussion. Morneau became a shell of himself as he tried to regain everything he had developed into at the plate leading up to 2010. Something he wouldn’t really find again until 4 seasons later in a Colorado Rockies uniform.
The Twins and their fans missed out on watching two All-Stars perform at their best for many seasons all because of concussions. It really wasn’t the Pohlad’s lack of spending on player salaries that robbed us of winning seasons in 2010 and beyond, it was some awful and unfortunate brain injuries.
It has to be one of the strangest strikes of fate ever that the M&M boys would be eventually driven out of the game in the same way. Two players that seemed completely linked in time, approach to the game, and position in the Twins lineup. While both continued to play the game, both were plagued by concussion symptoms. Both had major scares from what seemed to be routine dives at first base. Both likely left seasons of baseball on the field as they chose the health of their brain over anything that could be accomplished on the field.
We can still probably yell and scream and throw things at the Pohlads for other aspects of the franchise. Some of the recent seasons of losing baseball may not fully fall on their shoulders since we saw what were likely some more All-Star appearances and maybe even some solid Hall of Fame resumes tarnished, altered, and ruined by concussions.