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The Twins clinched their 6th AL Central title in 9 years this week. They’ve got a beautiful new ballpark, the reining AL MVP locked up for 8 more years and the current Sports Illustrated cover boy (I feel like I’ve seen that cover somewhere before). Basically, there’s a lot to feel good about from the Twins perspective. But, despite all of the bliss, I can’t help but think of the man who has been all but forgotten during the team’s amazing second half run.
This guy is also a former MVP, he’s been arguably the player most responsible for the Twins success in the past five years and he was off to the best start of his career before a unfortunate injury derailed his season. The man I am referring to - of course - is Justin Morneau.
The first baseman was hitting .345 with a .437 OBP and slugging .618 when he went down with a concussion on July 7. Those totals would rank 2nd, 1st and 3rd in the American League if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. All three would be career highs.
Because of the uniqueness of Morneau’s injury he hasn’t been allowed to spend much time around his teammates. He’s seldom seen in the clubhouse, almost never appears in the dugout and is not permitted to travel. Unfortunately, he’s also been tagged by some with the dreaded “injury prone” label.
After playing all 163 games in 2008, Morneau was shelved during last season’s playoff push with a back injury. That coupled with this year’s concussion have led some to wonder if the 29-year-old’s best days are behind him. It has to be killing him and it’s really not fair, but pro sports - even more than real life - are not fair.
Concussions are mysterious even to experts in the field. There is no way to predict their long or short term effects. A broken leg or torn ACL is understandable to fans, you have surgery, rehab for a set amount of time and come back and play. With Morneau there is no surgery, no rehab plan - just waiting and hoping.
I’ve been fortunate enough to float on the periphery of Morneau’s orbit since 2003. I interviewed him before and after his first three big league games and, as he has evolved into a MVP and superstar, he’s always been considerate enough to chat with me couple of times a year. Although he’s not particularly dynamic, he is candid and real. Despite the fame and fortune he’s earned, he remains grounded - a real person. That is probably the most difficult thing for a celebrity to do.
Now, with interest in Twins peaking, with his team seemingly poised for a long postseason run, Morneau is nowhere to be seen. Justin may be gone for this year, but let’s make sure he’s not forgotten. He deserves better.