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Milestone watch: Can Joe Mauer pass Killebrew for most times on base in Twins history?

Aug 3, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer (7) hits an RBI single during the second inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS – Twins first baseman Joe Mauer is climbing the franchise’s lifetime achievements lists, and the three-time batting champ has a nonzero chance to be No. 1 all-time in reaching base.

The milestone that will receive more pub is the hit list. Mauer moved into sole possession of third place in Twins history with a 1st-inning single on Tuesday, leaving Twins legend Tony Oliva in his wake at 1,917 hits. Twins fans to this day are left wondering how many Tony O. would have hit if his knees hadn’t given out on him. He likely wouldn’t have had to wait this long to get into baseball’s hall of fame, but that’s another column for another day.

Mauer hadn’t notched a hit in six days, after he tied Oliva on the Twins’ all-time hit list. Word is that Oliva told Mauer before Tuesday’s game to get it done, and the first baseman didn’t waste any more time.

It was a different milestone that caught my eye Tuesday, when Mauer reached base twice – one single and one walk – during a Twins home run parade. Mauer has now reached base 2,812 times in his 14-year career, which is two more times than Twins legend Kirby Puckett.

“He tied [Oliva] in San Diego, I think,” Molitor said with a slight grin. “He might be leading our team in on-base percentage this homestand. He’s had some good at-bats and hits some balls sharply, but he finally got that one to go through tonight.”

“He’s as familiar as anybody with Twins history – from here – and I know that he doesn’t take for granted when he has a chance to join and pass and do those different things that happen on milestone lists. But, you know, we all know what Tony did here. And that’s pretty impressive,” Molitor said.

The all-time franchise leader in “times on base” is Sam Rice, who did all his damage with the Washington Senators. He reached safely 3,619 different times, according to the Twins. (Paul Molitor is No. 20 on the MLB all-time list, if you’re wondering, with 4,460 times on base during his Hall of Fame career.)

Harmon checks in at No. 2 on the Twins’ on-base list, and you’ll find him at or near the top of basically every leaderboard in Twins history. The Killer reached base 3,576 times throughout his career, a healthy margin in front of Mauer.

OK, I was curious. What if you counted just the numbers of times on base in a Twins uniform? It’s a bit of an unfair fight. Killebrew didn’t get to control the fact that the team moved from the nation’s capital to the Twin Cities during his playing career. And we’ll forget for a moment about the year he spent in Kansas City at the end of his career. That helps level the playing field a little bit, since Killebrew played 21 years in the big leagues and Mauer is now in his 14th, and 7 more years for Mauer seems like a near-impossibility.

If you look at just the achievements in a Twins uniform, suddenly Killebrew’s lead over Mauer is diminished. Counting Mauer’s two times on base Tuesday, the Twins’ all-time leader is ahead of Mauer by a margin of 3,072 to 2,812. So Mauer has to get on base 260 more times to tie Killebrew.

Killer still holds the lead, but the milestone isn’t miles ahead in the distance. It’s attainable.

I asked Mauer about the significance of one-upping Tony Oliva on the Twins all-time hit list, knowing full well that Mauer’s not the kind of guy that likes to discuss his own accomplishments with the media.

“Any time you’re mentioned with Tony, that’s a pretty good thing,” Mauer said. “Obviously he’s one of the best guys to put on this uniform – and now a good friend, which is even more special. That’s pretty neat to stop and think about that for a little bit.”

When he was informed that the base hit in his first at-bat Tuesday also put him ahead of Kirby Puckett in terms of getting on base, Mauer said that Oliva and Puckett were “Two of my favorite players.”

Lastly, I brought up the fact that Mauer had Harmon in his sights if you’re projecting this thing out another year and some change – just 260 more times on base for No. 1 in Twins history.

“Well, I know there’s probably a couple categories I’ll never be mentioned with Harmon,” Mauer said. “But that’s another guy—great ballplayer, great person, too. I guess I’m doing something right if I’m mentioned with those guys.”

Hits Walks HBP Times on Base
Killebrew with the Twins 1,713 1,321 38 3,072
Mauer with the Twins 1,918 872 22 2,812

Mauer’s 34 years old. He’s signed through next season with the Twins as part of the massive contract extension the team gave him after he’d become the stuff of local legends and won the MVP award in his home state in 2009.

Here’s the sloppy, bar-napkin math.  Figure we’re a little more than two-thirds of the way through Minnesota’s baseball season (111 games out of 162). Mauer’s been on base 142 times this year. He’ll get his customary days off the rest of the way, whether he wants to or not, and if he stays healthy maybe you can pencil him in for, what, another 70 times on base? He’s walking nearly as often as he strikes out this season, which you don’t see every day. That allows him to keep his on-base percentage nearly 100 points higher than his .272 batting average. (Killebrew walked more than he struck out in his Twins career: 1,321 to 1,314.)

All right, so if Mauer stays healthy and keeps producing at this rate, he’ll finish the year in the neighborhood of 2,882 times on base in his career. That figure would still leave him 190 shy of Killebrew’s record number of times reaching base in a Twins uniform. But Mauer has another year to chase the record.

And over the past four seasons, Mauer’s averaged getting on base 206 times a year, injuries all included.

It’s going to be close. If he signs another contract with the Twins, it ought to be a cake walk for Mauer. If he doesn’t – and, really, who knows how that will play out? – then it figures to be a fascinating pursuit.


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