Joe Mauer has been considered to be one of the best defensive catchers in baseball over the past few seasons. Now he has the hardware to prove it. The Twins catcher earned his first Rawlings Gold Glove on Thursday, an honor for defensive excellence. The winners were selected by managers and coaches from each American League team and they could not vote for their own players. "To be recognized as a great defensive player has always been a goal of mine," Mauer said when reached on his cell phone on Thursday evening. "I think that ever since I signed or first broke into the Major Leagues, everybody knew I could hit a little bit.
"But I've always worked hard on the defensive side and I really take a lot of pride in that too -- handling pitchers, trying to throw runners out and the whole package. So to be recognized as the best in the American League is definitely a good feeling."Mauer's .997 fielding percentage ranked first among all American League catchers. He committed just three errors in 886 total chances while making a career-high 134 starts behind the plate this year. The Twins catcher also threw out 29-of-80 basestealers for a 36.3 percentage, ranking him second in the AL. Joining Mauer as first-time recipients of this year's AL Gold Gloves were Rays first baseman Carlos Pena, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia and Rangers shortstop Michael Young. The rest of the list of AL winners includes Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina (seventh Gold Glove), Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre (second), Angels center fielder Torii Hunter (eighth), Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore (second) and Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki (eighth). Mauer now becomes the second catcher in Twins history to win a Gold Glove. Earl Battey also won the award, doing so in 1961 and 1962. It may have taken nearly half a century for another Twins catcher to win the award, but the Twins are no strangers to having recipients of the honor. It's the eighth straight year that the Twins have boasted at least one Gold Glove winner and the 39th time overall that a Twin has captured the award. Hunter won seven straight Gold Gloves with the Twins from 2001-07 while manning center field. Last year, Hunter was one of two Twins to win the award, as pitcher Johan Santana also earned his first Gold Glove. "Just seeing how many times a guy like Torii Hunter was able to win it, it's always been in the back of my mind,' Mauer said of winning a Gold Glove. "I've learned a lot from some good guys. Having [bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek] there everyday and a guy like Mike Redmond to help me along and [manager Ron Gardenhire], it's been great for me to be able to learn from them. They've helped me along the way. I have to give credit to them too." Mauer's defense may have earned him this award, but his offense is also a big reason why he's considered one of the best catchers in the game. He won his second AL batting title in 2008 by finishing the year with a .328 batting average. At age 25, Mauer is the only AL catcher to ever earn a batting title and he became just the second catcher in Major League history to capture two such honors. Ernie Lombardi earned a pair of batting titles in the National League with the Reds in 1938 and 1942. But while Mauer has been primarily recognized for his offense, he's always placed more emphasis on his role as a catcher. Mauer knows that at his position, it's about more than just what you can do with the bat. That's why Mauer also spends countless hours in Spring Training on the field perfecting his technique behind the plate and taking the time to work with the entire Twins pitching staff. "Being a catcher, you have a lot of things on your plate," Mauer said. "I want to be looked at as a great player in general, and as a catcher it starts with defense. ... Hopefully I continue to get better." The 2008 season marks the 52nd year of the Gold Glove award. The first Gold Gloves were awarded in 1957 to one player at each position from both leagues, then expanded the next year to include a lineup of nine players, one from each league.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.