Mauer presents complicated case for Hall of Fame

Joe Mauer’s Hall of Fame case is complicated.

If Mauer, 35, who officially announced his retirement Monday, is judged as one of the game’s best-hitting catchers, then he’ll be in Cooperstown. If the final five seasons of his 15-year career figure into the case, it could be a different story.

It’s shaping up to be a long debate.

Mauer, playing for the Minnesota Twins, is the only catcher in history to win three batting titles. He was also an American League MVP with a career OPS of .827. He finished with 2,123 hits. In addition to his MVP win, he also finished fourth, sixth and eighth in MVP voting over the course of his career. He was a six-time All-Star.

He won three Gold Gloves for his defense and won the Silver Slugger, an award given to the best hitter at each position, five times.

And get this statistic from MLB.com: If Mauer had continued to play and gone 0-for-1,050, he still would have had a higher on-base percentage than three Hall of Fame catchers, Johnny Bench, Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk.

Mauer won batting titles hitting .347, .328 and .365. The .365 average came in 2009, the Twins’ last season in the Metrodome. That year he reached base at a .444 clip with 28 home runs and 96 RBI.

Consider all that, and Mauer is a Hall of Famer, ready to join his fellow St. Paul, Minn., players - Jack Morris, Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield - in Cooperstown.

But some voters say that Mauer’s injuries will cost him that chance.

His concussion issues moved him to first base for the final five years of his career. Moving to the more spacious Target Field in 2010 cut down on his power. He wasn’t the same player.

In his final five seasons, Mauer had one season when his OPS was better than .800. That was 2017, when it was .801.

Mauer’s career can be compared to those of two players: Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly and Dodgers lefty Sandy Koufax. Mattingly didn’t make the Hall of Fame. Koufax did.

Each had a short career because of injuries.

Mattingly played for 14 years and was on a Hall of Fame trajectory in the first half of his career, but the second half was defined by injuries. He had 2,153 hits and led the American League in hits twice. He won a batting title (.343) in 1984 and led the American League in doubles three times.

Mattingly was on the ballot for 15 seasons, never getting higher than 28.2 percent of the vote.

Koufax played 12 years with the Dodgers, but unlike Mauer, he finished strong. Koufax had six seasons with ERAs of 4.91, 3.88, 4.44, 4.05, 3.91 and 3.52, high for that time.

But starting in 1962, Koufax finished with five consecutive ERA titles, his highest ERA being 2.54. He finished with 32 shutouts in those five seasons.

Then, an injured arm ended his career.

He won three National League Cy Young Awards and was the World Series MVP twice, in 1963 and 1965.

Mauer played in 10 postseason games for the Twins without winning a game.

History suggests that, when it comes to its Hall of Fame voting, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America gives pitchers with career-ending injuries more breaks than it gives position players with career-ending injuries.

As a Baseball Writers’ Association of America voter, I say that Mauer, as one of the best hitting catchers in history, should be in the Hall of Fame.

The floor is open. Let the debate begin.