Entering today, Joe Mauer (.323) trails Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (.326) by three points in the race for the American League batting title. Cabrera is also in the hunt for the AL's triple crown award (42 HR-2nd to Hamilton with 43, and 133 RBI-1st in AL), which has not been won since Carl Yaztremski did it in 1967. Adding fuel to this fight is the fact the Twins and Tigers open up a three game series at Target Field tonight, before beginning their teams respective final series of the season on Monday.
If Mauer were to overtake Cabrera and win the batting title, it would be the fourth time in his career he finishes leading the AL in batting (A ridiculous number for any catcher). But yet, he still takes heavy scrutiny from an angry fan base (Probably due in larger part to consecutive 90+ loss seasons). And that is why, this batting title, would mean much more to Mauer, than his previous three.
Looking at each of his titles respectively, there are several cases to make for each of them as why they are the best. In 2006, Mauer hit .347, giving him his first title, helping lead the Twins on a miraculous 4 month surge to a 96 win season and the Central division championship. 2008, he hit .328 and was a part of a resurgent Twins team, that was expected to finish last, that went to a game 163 against Chicago. Then came his finest season as a pro, in 2009. Mauer missed all of April with an injury, then came back and lead the AL in average (.365), OBP (.444), slugging percentage (.587), and OPS (1.031), while hitting a career high 28 home runs and 96 RBI. Mauer received 27 out of 28 first place votes in the MVP voting, giving him the award easily.
After a decent 2010, Mauer saw injuries destroy his 2011 season (just 82 games played, only hit .287). 2011 was also the first year of his new 8 year, $184 million contract, and most fans came down hard on Mauer. He was viewed as soft, and some believed he wasn't really hurt at all and that he just wanted to sit on the bench. Even when he tried playing late in 2011, he received jeers from the home crowd whenever he would get out, instead of getting on base. Not exactly how a fan base should be treating the face of the franchise.
Then came 2012. Mauer set out to stay in the lineup as constantly as possible, and hit what he should be hitting. But early on in the year, Mauer still received the same jeers he was getting in 2011, when he would ground into a double play, or would have an 0 for 4 night. But as the year went on, he silence those jeers by playing everyday and staying near the top of the AL batting charts. And now, he finds himself in a position to set a career high in games played (146-2008, he has played in 141 games in 2012 with 6 games left), and win his 4th batting title.
And should Mauer win the title this year, it would mean more to him, than his previous three. He will have silenced his critics once again. He will prove to the fans he is worth what the Twins are paying him, while setting himself as one of the best players in team history. And, he will prove his status as one of the best hitting catchers in baseball history.
Win this one for yourself, Joe. You've earned it. And, you most definitely deserve it.