Change-UpOctober 12, 2010
Joe Mauer & Barry Bonds
By Patrick Sullivan

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.


One thing that does help Mauer is he took less money to sign with his hometown team. A hometown team that is not in one of the media hot beds. If he had taken the big time free agent contract in Boston or New York, for instance, he'd get a lot more scrutiny.

Part of it comes from Mauer failing in the LDS rather than the LCS. The 1990-1992 first rounds were all best of seven NLCS. There were more opportunities for Bonds to fail. On top of that, every time Bonds came to the plate, Tim McCarver recited Barry's RIPS numbers to a National audience. Basically, we had a lot more exposure to Bonds' failure.

Joe is just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position. Wasn't Bonds like 0 for 25 at one point?

Bonds played for his home town team, too, outperformed every salary he was ever paid by leaps and bounds, and was relatively reasonable in the superstar-athlete realm when it came to money. Yet he got little credit for that. Mauer may not have gone to Boston or New York, but he extracted very close to full market value from the Twins, and yet he popularly is perceived as having taken a hometown discount.

It is worth reflecting on this.

Color of their skin?

I think the length of Bonds' poor performance played the largest role in his critics complaints.

Bonds was a prick to everyone who crossed his path. He treated the writers like crap, and they returned the favor.

"Mauer has been awful in the postseason and is a career .286/.359/.314 hitter in 35 plate appearances"

Dude, seriously?

We are calling that "awful" after 35 PAs?

Maybe 0-for-35 would be awful.

But this piece of baseball writing is truly horrible! C'mon, Patrick, get better.

Barry Bonds was not from Pittsburgh, so it's not his "home town team."
While Mauer is beloved in MN, he has been ripped for not producing in this most recent series; writers and fan blogs/letters/comments have been pretty critical of his nonproduction.
Mauer and his mom answer every one of his letters, so that doesn't hurt his reputation.
While Mauer doesn't hit a lot of homers, he doesn't stand and watch them.

This also ignores the fact that in 2002 Bonds had one of the best post-seasons ever. Any particular reason that was omitted? Hmmm?

Patrick did mention that these post-season deviations are mostly due to sample size. Particularly in Mauer's case, give him just an extra homer, single, and walk and his line would be 343/501/399. He is one good game from a very good line. This reminds me of how Albert Pujols was 'struggling' earlier this season.