A Reminder That Not All Athletes Are Jerks

The Minnesota Twins traded Justin Morneau to the Pittsburgh Pirates today, for more or less nothing. The move was not a surprise. Morneau was in the last year of his contract, the Twins are going nowhere in 2013, and there has been a lot of speculation about his future.

Morneau is a first baseman from Canada who debuted with the Twins in 2003. He is a four-time all star and was the AL MVP in 2006, batting .321 with 34 home runs and 130 RBIs. He finished second in the MVP voting in 2008. At the midpoint of the 2010 season, Morneau was enjoying a Lou Gehrig-like year, batting .345 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs while slugging .618. But he took a knee to the head while sliding into second base, suffered a concussion and missed the rest of the 2010 season and all of 2011.

Morneau returned to the lineup last year, but has never been the same player he was before the injury. Over the last month, he seems to have regained his power stroke, so maybe he will return to form for the Pirates. Morneau was always a fan favorite with the Twins. In his ten years with the team, I never heard a bad word said about him, nor was he ever linked to the drug scandal, or scandal of any sort. Before his concussion, the Twins’ biggest problem with Morneau was that he worked too hard and had started to experience back problems, so the team tried to get him to take it easier in spring training.

After learning of his trade this afternoon, Morneau released this open letter to fans of the Minnesota Twins:

First of all, I would like to say thank you to all of the Twins fans. I would also like to thank the Minnesota Twins organization for giving me a chance to realize my dream of being a Major League baseball player. I was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1999. Since that day I have been very proud and fortunate to call myself a Minnesota Twin.

I was a wide-eyed 22 year old kid when I made my big league debut in 2003. I received a warm welcome that day and have felt welcomed ever since. I feel like I was a kid when I first got here, but was able to grow up in this organization and become someone my friends and family could be proud of. My wife, kids and family are Minnesotans and this has become my second home. Minnesotans are some of the kindest, most genuine people I have ever met.

I am sorry that during my time here we weren’t able to achieve our ultimate goal of winning the World Series, but I will forever carry many wonderful memories of my time here. I will always cherish every day I was lucky enough to play in front of you fans in a Minnesota uniform.

Thank you for all of your support throughout the years.

Your friend, Justin Morneau

Given the doldrums the team has fallen into over the last three years–not coincidentally, the time when Morneau was out or playing at a reduced level–it is easy to forget how good the team has been through most of its recent history. The Twins won their division title five times during the years when Morneau anchored the infield, but they could never get past those damn Yankees in the postseason.

I am pretty sure that every fan of the Minnesota Twins wishes Justin Morneau the best and will be rooting for him as the Pirates get ready for the postseason. We sports fans have gotten pretty jaded, so it is good to be reminded that there are still sports stars whom you would be glad to have as friends.

UPDATE: I would be remiss, maybe, not to mention that my youngest daughter, now 17, has worn a Justin Morneau jersey to every Twins game she has attended in recent years, as have many other young Twins fans. Here she is atop the Budweiser Deck–one of many cool viewing areas at Target Field–with one of her best friends, just a couple of weekends ago. My guess is that young Twins fans won’t stop wearing their Morneau jerseys for quite a while:

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