Joe Mauer will officially retire from baseball

Joe Mauer lined a vintage Joe Mauer hit, slicing a double to left field in his final at-bat, then saluting the roaring crowd at Target Field after hustling into second base.

Then it got better. Before the Twins took the field for the final time, Mauer emerged alone from the dugout, wearing catching gear for the first time in five years.

That iconic moment told us one thing:

Joe ain’t coming back.

Mauer will retire after 15 seasons, during some of which he was certainly the best catcher in baseball. He made the announcement in a letter to fans that appeared on the team’s website and will appear as a full page newspaper ad.

Years of wear and tear on his body — a concussion in 2013 cut short his catching days and sent him to first base — ended his career at age 35 as an eight-year, $184 million contract expired. He also had a concussion May 18 last season when he fell chasing a foul ball.

“After much consideration I have decided to retire from playing baseball,” he wrote in his retirement announcement. “The decision came down to my health and my family. The risk of concussion is always there, and I was reminded of that this season after missing over 30 games as a result of diving for a foul ball.

“Thank you, Minnesota Twins, and thank you, fans, for making my career as special and memorable as it was. Because of you I can leave the game I love with a full and grateful heart.”

Mauer talked at length after that Sept. 30 game against the White Sox about the emotions he went through on a day that started when his twin 5-year-old daughters, Emily and Maren, surprised him at first base for the national anthem.

“I don’t think it could have gone any better,” Mauer said after the Twins beat the White Sox 5-4. “You guys saw how important that moment was to me, just to have a chance to put the gear back on.”

His wife, Maddie, is expecting this month.

A St. Paul native, Mauer was a three-sport star at Cretin-Derham Hall. He turned down a football scholarship to play quarterback at Florida State after the Twins took him first overall in the 2001 Major League Baseball draft.

He earned six All-Star berths as a catcher, winning three Gold Gloves.

And he made history behind the plate. He’s the only catcher to win three batting titles.

In 2009, he was named American League MVP after leading the majors with a .365 average, hitting 28 home runs and driving in 96 runs in only 138 games.

Mauer insisted after the season that he hadn’t made up his mind about returning for a 16th season.

“Either way, it’s a good decision, you know?” he said at the time. “I can either play, or go home and be with my girls. I don’t think there’s a wrong decision there.”

Mauer entered the season hoping to play, he told reporters, until at least 2020. He was coming off his best season since 2014, hitting .305 as the Twins made the playoffs in 2017.

But as the 2018 season wore on, the Twins fell out of contention, and Mauer suffered another concussion when he fell chasing a foul pop-up, missing 25 games.

“A lot can change in six months,” he said after summoning a reporter to Target Field in mid-September for a one-on-one interview. “Personally, professionally, physically.”

“There’s a lot that goes into it than just, ‘Do you want to play?’ There’s a lot of different dynamics that go into it. I owe it to myself and my family to sit down and think about those things.

Mauer spent a great deal of time before and after games working on stretching and getting his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame into condition. And the May concussion and cervical strain also got him thinking about future health issues.

“I’m not a percentage type of guy, but it is definitely something I need to think about,” Mauer said. “The concussion, third baby on the way. So we have a lot of things to go over. I want to do that and take a deep breath and try to think with a clear mind.”