Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A knee to know basis

Joe Mauer has caught just 51 games this season.
The Star Tribune's Joe Christensen today has a piece that probably comes as close as we're going to get to peeling back the mystery of Joe Mauer's health problems this year.

It doesn't answer all questions. One of my pet theories as a newspaper copy editor myself is that when the reporter is vague, (s)he's probably trying to hide a knowledge gap. This passage, on the timing of Mauer's offseason knee surgery, is a good example:

Mauer had arthroscopic surgery on the same knee in 2004, and this time, after numerous medical consultations, he didn't have surgery until mid-December.

"Do I wish I would have had it earlier? Of course," Mauer said. "But at the time, myself, the organization -- we felt that was the best route."

Left unknown: Was the medical advice unanimous to wait? Was Mauer himself reluctant to have the 2010 surgery? I don't expect we outsiders are ever going to know who recommended what and why.

Then there's this unresponsive comment from general manager Bill Smith about the April description of Mauer's problem as "bilateral leg weakness," a diagnosis that sent many of us scurrying to the Internet and led to myriad rumors of dire ailments:

Asked if the team regrets that diagnosis, Smith said, "No, that's in the past."

I think he means: There's nothing I can do about that statement now, and I'm not going to criticize my staff in public, so I'm not talking about it.  Saying "That's in the past," however, implies that the incident will not be revisited, and I doubt that. I suspect it will play a prominent role in somebody's job review. If it doesn't, it ought to.

One other point:

Twins insiders don't question Mauer's work ethic. He's often the first player in the clubhouse and last to leave. He goes through an extensive training program each day, but some have wondered if Mauer should focus more on weightlifting and less on flexibility.

From my perspective — as one who has avoided back surgery for more than a decade though a daily flexibility routine — I couldn't disagree more with that last clause. Mauer's a catcher. A 6-foot-5-inch catcher. What wrecks catchers' careers is back problems, and that's particularly true of tall catchers. 

I've watched Mauer's on-field stretching closely a few times. His routine is similar to what I go through — but more intense, which makes sense, because he's about to put his body through a more rigorous set of challenges than I ever will. I can't see that it's possible for him to overdo flexibility, and see nothing but increased medical trauma for him if he underdoes it. 

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