Joe Mauer & Barry Bonds
It's hard to remember sometimes but Barry Bonds had just an awful reputation for failing to come through in the postseason by the time his stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates ended. This excerpt from a 2001 article for Slate that Ben McGrath wrote captures the sentiment well, though it incorporates some of his playoff failures as a Giant, too.
In five playoff series for the Pirates and Giants—all losing efforts—Bonds has batted .196 with just one home run and six RBIs over a span of nearly 100 at-bats. In 1997, the San Francisco Examiner declared, "Barry Bonds continues to struggle in clutch situations, to the point where failures now are almost expected." Last month, the New York Times' Murray Chass quipped, "If Bonds had played for the Yankees, George Steinbrenner would have called him Mr. O, not for October but for zero."
At the end of the 1992 season - Bonds's seventh in Major League Baseball, Bonds had won two MVP awards and was in line for an enormously lucrative free agent contract. Still, in 83 postseason plate appearances he had hit just .191/.349/.265. His Pirates had lost three consecutive National League Championship Series and time and again, when a key Bonds hit might have made all the difference, he came up short.
At the end of the 2010 season - Joe Mauer's seventh in Major League Baseball, Mauer has won an MVP award and should have a second. He's arguably off to the best start of any catcher in Major League Baseball history. His power stroke comes and goes, but that part of his game is just icing. He's phenomenal with or without hefty slugging totals. The Minnesota Twins rewarded Mauer with a $184 million extension this season.
Like Bonds, Mauer has been awful in the postseason. He's never won a game in the playoffs and is a career .286/.359/.314 hitter in 35 plate appearances. This past American League Division Series, Mauer hit .250/.308/.250. He came up short again.
It's interesting to contrast the way fans and media treated Bonds to the way they treat Mauer. Both were/are superstars en route to Hall of Fame careers who failed miserably under the brightest spotlight. Aside from a corner here or there of the internet, there doesn't seem to be much anger or ridicule towards Mauer. The same could hardly be said of Bonds. His detractors reveled in his high-profile failures.
That may be for any number of reasons. I'd like to think it's because we know postseason performance deviating from career norms to the upside or down is most likely due to the sample size than some innate character trait in the player in question. A more informed fanbase and media set are much more likely to cut the guy who falls short some slack. It happens, or so we've learned as the SABR movement has made its way mainstream.
One could also attribute this phenomenon to their respective dispositions. Bonds, by many accounts, was a jerk. Mauer, on the other hand, has a great reputation as an individual.
There's another potential explanation, of course. And while I don't want to use this space for social or political commentary, I'd urge you to consider alternative reasons why Mauer seems to escape media criticism while so many took such great joy in Bonds's struggles.